Maya

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

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

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

Your Personal Universe: Through the Maya Lens

The human condition is such that it’s not uncommon for people to wrestle with one or more aspects of their nature, those they strive to resolve but just can’t seem to get beyond. Something chronic that causes continual grief. Something so strong they feel hijacked from the life they were supposed to have. Or, everything is going well. But then that tendency, thought, behavior, internal voice, physical symptom…raises its unwelcome head. Intervenes. Again. Out of nowhere. Just when they were getting somewhere. Stopped short of the threshold to freedom.

I’ve long described this state as bumping up against a membrane. A diaphanous substance that gives to a point but springs back to regain its integrity, its strength reinstated, the barrier retained.

I ask if the aspect has been with them for some amount of time. It’s not unusual for me to hear: For as long as I can remember. Bringing the unconscious to consciousness, I take them through a process where they can identify to me its make-up: how it’s being held internally in the way of sensations, energy, internal dialogue or other auditory manifestations, visual input, even smells.

We use this data as a guide to go back to the first time such things manifested. That’s the pinpoint in time where we center the healing work. That’s where resolution is possible.

It’s not unusual for the person I’m working with to go back to the womb — or even before. And they’re able to identify a number of things. Physical sensations, sound, emotional impressions of their fetus self…and the state of their mother and father, who is there or absent, any number of things. If the person has been transported that far back, then the aspects of their life they’ve been grappling with…got a start in the womb. Or even as they’re hanging out in the ether…a potential awaiting conception…there’s awareness. I can say to them, This is not yours but something you ingested…that you’ve been carrying all these years. There we begin the healing process. Necessarily, we may even work back through the family line reframing, releasing limiting beliefs or traumas, trapped energy, whatever is necessary to bring them to a place of balance and wellbeing.

ApabBookSo, when I read Apab’yan Tew’s book The Birth of a Universe: The Maya Science of Pregnancy, I found myself saying, Yes, yes and yes. Some of the Maya science he documents is well familiar to me through my own work.

His occasional use of a K’iche’ Maya word at crucial points, and its translation, calls in the beauty of metaphor and poetic prose. Thus, it allows the quintessential meaning intended to sink in more deeply and take its rightful place.

Now begins the Maya perspective on the process and elements of pregnancy known by just a few remaining specialists within the ajq’ij — spiritual guide and Day Keeper — discipline. While there are a good number of ajq’ij and midwives still in existence, with this now rare, specialized knowledge the ajq’ij and midwife can work with precision for their client.

In K’iche’ the word uxlab’ means exhalation, steam or breath producing a vital force that becomes a separate entity from its source. Potential parents have their own state of being, and understanding or response to the nature of their relationship, which they carry into the act of procreation, intercourse. If conception occurs, the mother and father transfer their own unique make-up — lineage, underlying beliefs and developmental history, as well as the essence of their relationship in the moment — to the being they are creating. Their “exhalation” intertwines, conveying all the elements mentioned, into its own unique mixture, to the embryo. Now a separate entity, the uxlab’ ingested from the parents the decoction that forms its first tendencies. Creation of an individual universe is set in motion. The uxlab’ is also fully aware and conscious of what occurs outside its cocoon. The membrane being permeable in certain ways, much enters that fully matters.

Hence, the mother’s state of being during the entire pregnancy is paramount. The uxlab’ takes testimony directly from the mother, just as it takes sustenance, and absorbs the communications and resulting emotions, a completely invisible process that takes hold within the womb. Whether the act of conception was pleasant, indifferent or violent matters. Whether the mother is stressed or calm matters. Whether the father is emotionally and physically present or absent matters. Whether the baby is wanted or unwanted matters. It all gets through.

These truths are becoming accepted in some circles of Western healing methods. But Maya science deviates from Western understandings at this point and becomes quite remarkable, even a mystery.  When consulting an ajq’ij for any matter, they will ask for your birthdate according to the Western calendar in order to convert and compare against the Cholq’ij calendar, referring to the one containing 260 days having to do with human life. From a birthdate your nawal is shown. The nawals are divided into the masculine and the feminine, not according to attributes of biological reproduction, but to their substance. Your individual nawal documenting the path of your life can be seen clearly with great detail. If something is generating an issue, the ajq’ij will know exactly how to conduct a healing, through which prayers and ceremony.

But what of a fetus in the womb? The one not yet born? The ajq’ij or midwife with the specialized knowledge asks for the birthdate, which shows the nawals, of the parents so predicting the lifepath and tendencies of the baby. If the mother is stressed or the fetus is positioned in such a way to make a birth difficult, the spiritual guide enters into ceremonial singing using the vibrations of song to move the baby and calm the mother.

I’ve painted broad brushstrokes across a Maya science that is complex and yet straightforward to serve as a brief introduction, and how I could readily relate through particular similarities in my own work.

Apab’yan Tew is one of those few remaining as a Day Keeper, spiritual guide, male midwife, and bone healer who retains the depths and practices of this specialized knowledge, passed on to him by his own teachers, over years of apprenticeship and great hardship in his own life. When a calling comes, the road is rarely one of ease. It is a gift to the world that he has chosen to document a measure of this knowledge so that it doesn’t slip into time and lapses completely.

The Birth of a Universe: The Maya Science of Pregnancy contains wisdom anyone can use. It’s a book to delve into thoughtfully to glean how it relates to your own life.

Available in English, Spanish and K’iche’ Maya through Jade Publishing, Amazon, Barnes and Noble and elsewhere.

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Tat Apab’yan will be with us the entire time during our travels in Chiapas, Mexico and southern Guatemala for the Maya Mysteries program in January. Aside from the fire ceremony, he has gladly agreed to share more on Maya midwifery, the Maya Calendar and esoteric practices of the Living Maya.

You are invited to join us for this very precious time⎯a rare opportunity to experience Maya traditions so deeply. For more information and how to register, go here.

 

Categories: Book Review, Healing, Indigenous Wisdom, Maya | Tags: , , , , , | 2 Comments

The Heroic Journey of Maya Spiritual Leader Xun Calixto

Imagine you live in a rustic, tiny village and have barely ventured beyond the next town. Few westerners can imagine confining themselves to a small radius within the region of their homes. But in many parts of the world, it’s normal for any number of reasons. Now imagine if you were invited to travel beyond the borders that are familiar to you…all the way into another country? Would you go? Your answer will be telling as to the filter with which you experience the world. It’s usual to have at least some questions or trepidation about venturing into the Unknown. But would you let it hold you back? Or would you instead leap at the chance?

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Totik Xun laying an altar in his home. Photo credit: Carla Woody.

I’ve known Totik* Xun Calixto for about ten years. He’s an important fixture during my Maya spiritual travel program when we visit his home in a misty hamlet above the Maya village of San Juan Chamula in the Chiapas highlands of Mexico. Xun came to his calling later in life, enduring a process that involved a number of hardships (not unusual for those sought out for that kind of sacred responsibility). He holds a private ceremony for us according to Tzotzil Maya traditions. Xun retains spiritual responsibilities within his community and is also revered as a healer. In his tradition, he listens to the blood by pulsing the wrist, and is able to determine the cause of any malady – spiritual, mental

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Listening to the blood. Photo credit: Carla Woody.

or physical. The transmission he receives determines the coding – size, color and number of candles and specific accompanying prayers – of the curing ritual he does before his altar. Xun is quite forthcoming in describing to us what he’s doing and why from within his traditions, an approach that describes things in metaphorical fashion, often otherworldly. Sometimes a stretch to understand from a strictly western reference. But the curing isn’t for the mind’s understanding anyway, which can certainly get in the way if someone is too attached to intellectual knowledge.

This year’s Maya journey could be thought of as a pilgrimage. It took us through southern Guatemala, over the Mexican border to the Chiapas highlands and then down to the rainforest lowlands. I wanted to sponsor Xun on the Guatemala portion so he could experience and share traditions with Maya cousins. But I didn’t really know if he would consider going. It required him to travel on his own by bus, a long trip from his home all the way to our starting point in Guatemala City. Air travel was out of the question. I shouldn’t have wondered though. Xun was over the moon at the invitation.

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Pure enjoyment. Photo credit: Bekki Davis.

It sometimes happens that, when any of us decide to take that leap outside our comfort zone, there are tests…as if to say…are you sure? Travel required a passport, which turned out to be a several months’ long, challenging process of back and forth travel to the large city of Tuxtla Gutierrez because Xun had no birth certificate. Without on-the-ground liaisons to accompany him there would have been a different outcome, and I’m in their debt. Just shy of two months prior to our launch, he finally had passport in hand. It was nail-biting time for me on the day of his anticipated arrival at our lodging in Guatemala City. The long ride required changes along the way, perhaps daunting for one who hadn’t traveled. When the front door sounded that night, I finally exhaled. Then took in the light of his ear-to-ear grin and added my own to his.

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Pure absorption, textile museum in Guatemala City. Photo credit: Bekki Davis.

 

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An invitation to spin wool in San Juan La Laguna. Photo credit: Carla Woody.

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Maximón. Photo credit: Carla Woody.

It’s a safe bet to say that Xun’s experience was one of bewonderment. I don’t recall ever seeing an adult be so open, just taking things in at every turn. A good role model for any of us. I never saw him rejecting anything unfamiliar but simply accepting, an appreciation of difference.

One of the most touching moments for me was when we were in the Tz’utujil Maya village of Santiago Atitlan and visited Maximón. Known as Rilaj Mam, Beloved Grandfather or Venerable Ancestor, Maximón is a trickster diety and protector, disguised in effigy, who may be petitioned through prayer and offerings of alcohol, money or tobacco, and interventions by his attending curandero. This tradition only exists in several towns in western Guatemala. Thus, unknown to Xun. Yet when we entered the small ceremonial house, Xun immediately dropped to his knees and began to pray before Maximón. I’m not sure I’ve ever seen such an outpouring. In his own dialect, he chanted. Soon tears were springing from Xun’s eyes as he gestured, taking in all present, asking for blessings and healings for everyone. It was sincere and humble. He was present, no show for effect. It wasn’t long before my own eyes began to feel wet with emotion.

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Xun (2nd from right) in the home of Maximón. Photo credit: Carla Woody.

It’s impossible to orchestrate each person’s journey and I wouldn’t want to. Each has their own reasons for setting out on such a venture into the Unknown, even if not consciously known to themselves. Openings, difficulties and beauty occur. Resolve and resolutions integrate as they will over time, a part of the spiritual path.

I am very much looking forward to seeing Toltik Xun again next year, in expectancy for what these travels have come to mean for him. It was a real honor and blessing to have him accompany us.

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*Toltik means Spiritual Father, a title of reverence in the Tzotzil Maya dialect.

 

 

Categories: Gratitude, Indigenous Wisdom, Maya, Spiritual Travel | Tags: , , , | Leave a comment

Borderlands

I’m sitting here waiting for the words to come. Sometimes writing is like that. Not because there’s writer’s block but because it takes a while – sometimes a long while – for the feelings to swim up…and form thought…then phrases…then sentences. At least enough to make a cohesive statement.

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Yaxchilan, Chiapas, Mexico. Photo: Carla Woody

I’m not sure I’m there yet. I knew it five days ago when, during the final circle of this year’s spiritual travel journey in Maya Lands, I attempted to express myself. By then we’d been in the rainforest for five days. Its soft humidity – really, something about the inherent energy ⎻ tends to open other dimensions for me, even as it retains the Great Mystery. Perhaps it has something to do with the insistent, primal calling of the howler monkeys.

Having heard theirs, I’d offered some last reflections to the group on our experiences then paused. I realized I’d left out a piece I was struggling with emotionally, something well beyond my control. What I was able to say in that moment felt totally inadequate in relation to what I wanted to say. I imagine it came out somewhat flat, even though I could feel the tears in my throat.

linebecomesariverI’d avoided reading The Line Becomes a River: Dispatches from the Border by Francisco Cantú for several months. I knew the subject matter would be hard for me to ingest. My feelings about what’s been happening at the US-Mexico border run deep. It rips my heart out. I personally know Rita Cantú, the author’s mother, a retired park ranger and composer-musician. She lives just a few miles from me. Knowing more now through her son’s book, I have enormous respect for the care in which she raised him, to instill the cultural values of his Mexican heritage and respect for nature. That said, I could imagine her challenges when he decided to join the US Border Patrol. Learning so in the book, it seemed unfathomable to me.

I can’t imagine what possessed me. But I decided to take Francisco’s book on my spiritual travel program in southern Guatemala and Chiapas, Mexico. I guess some part of me decided that reading it from a physical distance at home in northern Arizona, difficult but still easier, wasn’t appropriate. Instead, after our daily immersion with the Maya peoples and sacred traditions of those lands, I spent most nights with Francisco’s recollections. I struggled with them.

Francisco set the stage by writing of his fascination with the borderlands, wanting to know as much as he could. He disclosed that, after obtaining a degree in international relations, he desired more than intellectual knowledge. This is what led to his work as an agent for the US Border Patrol working in the hard deserts of Arizona, Texas and New Mexico between 2008 and 2012.

I doubt he held anything back in the book. Although, he does say some of those in the book are composites of different people he worked with or otherwise encountered. Locations were sometimes changed. Done so to protect privacy and, I imagine, safety in some cases. He relayed his daily life: the range of personalities and approaches of fellow agents, tracking and capturing humans in the bleakest places, witnessing desperation, hopelessness and death, the horrific acts of the drug cartels and opportunism of coyotes.

No matter what you tell yourself and how kind you may be toward asylum seekers, after a while it’s got to take a serious toll on your psyche. I was relieved when I began to pick up Francisco’s internal conflict such that he finally opted for a job removing himself from the field, and then from the Border Patrol completely.

But that brought new awareness. He’d developed a friendship with a Mexican man who, unbeknownst to Francisco, had been brought to the US illegally at age 11, married and had children who were US citizens by birth. His friend went home to Mexico to be with his dying mother but was caught attempting to re-enter and detained. Not able to just stand by, Francisco found himself on the other side. He did all he could to support his friend in navigating a legal system that cares little of personal circumstances, and otherwise helped out the family whose father was deported. At the publication of the book, they remained torn apart.

The Line Becomes a River, named a top ten book for 2018 by NPR and the Washington Post, was a hard read but a necessary one. I was personally glad the author didn’t gloss over the most difficult parts, that he was exposed to wide-ranging aspects of the border issues, and wasn’t afraid to write honestly about it. It’s a book all should read to best inform their thoughts and votes.

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I’ve spent many years developing relationships with Indigenous spiritual leaders and healers who serve their own people in the lands where I sponsor programs. Travelers’ tuitions help support the families of those involved and, through special projects, for the well-being of their communities. A range of service people are also involved and the local economy benefits. I don’t frequent areas considered unsafe. So it’s unlikely those I work with encounter the drug cartel. However, for many of them, behind the scenes of our time with them, they endure the results of acute poverty with little to no opportunity to change that state.

That hurts my soul, and extends globally to anyone seeking relief from violence, scarcity of any kind and inner demons they carry as a result. I cannot harden my heart as many can and turn away. Through a slight accident of birth and the times I was born into, I have not personally experienced these levels of hardship but a good number did down my family line.

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Altar at the Cofradia House (Brotherhood), Santiago Atitlan, Guatemala. Photo: Carla Woody.

So I am yet sitting here waiting for the words to arise to adequately express the sorrow I hold for a world where everyone isn’t invited to the table, and the helplessness I feel to do anything about it except my very small part to make it so.

***

The Metaphor: Borderlands

During opening circles for any of my spiritual travel programs, I invite participants to note any personal themes that run through our time together. Mine are not tourist trips but first to help preserve Indigenous traditions, and also an invitation for travelers to undertake deep inner work. What better way than spiritual journeys against the backdrop of sacred lifeways of foreign lands where we’re not within our usual comfort zone? The purpose, of course, is to carry the learnings home to create re-alignment and best live through personal values.

I invite them to note any metaphors that arise from their themes, providing a rich foundation and potential in-roads. Only this morning, as I finish writing this article, have I discovered my own coming from these travels: Borderlands.

There are the literal borderlands fraught with political issues that create great distress and tragedies. But also there are metaphysical borderlands. In this moment, what comes to me is the forbidden ground we’re told we must not cross in order to reinforce the status quo. But if we did and navigated those lands wisely, with great courage and heart, there’s the opportunity to integrate any wounded or unintegrated aspects of the self, and move through the threshold to enter an elevated life.

This is an area of personal depth and further unearthing. The Line Becomes a River  delivered it to me, gratefully while being immersed in the Maya lands and in relationship with peoples I’ve come to love.

Categories: Book Review, Global Consciousness, Indigenous Wisdom, Maya, Spiritual Evolution | Tags: , , , | 3 Comments

When Art Preserves a Legacy

Written in collaboration with Tat Apab’yan Tew.

In February, I traveled to southern Guatemala with Maya Daykeeper Apab’yan Tew to put the final touches on the spiritual travel program we would lead in that region and Chiapas, Mexico in January 2019. When we stopped at Lake Atitlan for several days, I made sure to revisit La Galeria in Panajachel. I retained fond memories from twelve years before when my friend Will Crim and I stumbled upon the place while wandering the streets of Pana.

Carla-Vintage-a

Vintage. ©2006 Carla Woody.

We were first attracted by the vintage Mercedes planted in the garden, and then became enchanted after entering the gallery. While making our way around the exhibition, a spare man engaged us about the artwork and offered us an expresso. We took him up on his offer and got to hear Thomas Schäfer Cuz’ stories about his mother, German-Guatemalan bohemian artist Nan Cuz, for hours. We were even invited into the inner sanctum to view his grandfather’s collection of Maya folk art. I was fascinated. This time was much the same, but we also met Sabine Völcker, Thomas’ wife, who was equally as hospitable.

This article could go in any number of directions. For now I’m going to focus on the artwork and background of Rosa Elena Curruchich ⎯ and why such works are important. In the main gallery, there was a grouping of Naïve art that caught my eye. At first glance, these miniature paintings looked simple. But beyond their style became complex, quite detailed, and there was a narrative to each one. Only that grouping was up for display at that point.

We returned a couple of days later, invited by Thomas and Sabine when they would start cataloging the entire collection. They had received boxes upon boxes of the tiny paintings to be sold on behalf of the family of a collector, possibly Anna Paddington, who had recently passed.

Rosa Elena Curruchich was the first female painter in San Juan Comalpa, a highlands town known for its artists. Her grandfather, Kaqchikel painter Andrés Curruchich, started the tradition of oil painting there in the 1930s documenting celebrations, ceremonies and lifeways. Rosa Elena followed in his footsteps. Based on her grandfather’s teachings, the subject matter explains the detail of the pieces. The more you look, the more is revealed.

But most of Rosa Elena’s are just 4”x4” or 6”x6” – none larger. Why so small? Here is the story she told her benefactor, as it was passed on to Sabine and Thomas. She was married to a prominent, authoritarian husband who forbade her to paint. So she would sneak off to paint in secrecy and limited the sizes to what she could slip into her pocket to hide. Then she would make trips to the old capitol Antigua Guatemala and try to sell them in the market. After she sold the first one to the collector, this woman became almost her sole buyer.

Another story told by Rosa Elena that I uncovered through research said after she got her first exhibition in Guatemala City, the male painters in San Juan Comalpa were jealous. She received threats and fled to Chimaltenango, about 10 miles away, to live.

The common theme being oppression by men. Sabine had already told me the story about Rosa Elena’s husband may be questionable, told in the hopes of increasing sales. The same is said of the second story. It’s called survival.

The important thing though is what Rosa Elena Curruchich and all those who followed her grandfather have done. Through their artwork, they’re documenting ways of life that are precious, many threatened. I’m a fan of narrative art. In the true sense of artistry, they are preserving what’s important. A meaningful story, an emotion, ordinary things that have a deeper meaning.

It was quite exciting to me to go into the inner sanctum of La Galeria that day Apab’yan and I were invited back. There all laid out on two tables, side by side, were about 60 or more of Rosa Elena’s works. Several boxes were still unpacked, totally about 200 in all.

As Apab’yan examined them, he began sorting the pieces into an order…each ceremony as they fell according to the calendar. It was remarkable, really. Others he separated out having to do with daily activities. I ended up purchasing 3 pieces depicting ceremonies, and wished it could have been all that fell around the calendar. Below you will see them with Apab’yan’s explanations. He told me the ones I chose depict ceremonies that are nearly gone.

Rosa-2

This painting is showing a private celebration inside the cofradia house. In here we can see a woman and man making an offering to the patron saint. There is incense and food offerings as payment. The patron saint image is dressed as a full high-ranking member in the cofradia hierarchy. Inside the house there are the special objects to perform ceremony and celebration: a big drum, incense burners, paintings, old textiles. Cofradia members are holders of ancient ways of Maya spirituality, beyond the image of a western cult. There is always a nawal, or spirit, related to some aspect of nature.

Rosa-1

Once again we are inside the cofradia house. In here we can see the healing of a baby. By burning specified dried herbs and exposing the baby eyes and breath to the incense burner, she or he is going to recover. We call this awas, meaning secret or taboo. It is hidden ancient knowledge preserved by cofradia members. This practice is becoming extinct except in the far away mountains where elders from a direct Maya background continue to keep a huge quantity of spiritual and medicine knowledge.

Rosa-3

This is a celebration. There is fiesta and dance, food is prepared and musicians playing chirimia flute instruments.

Thomas told me directly this was a very important ritual done if a baby reached the age of 8 days. Infant mortality is high. This ceremony reinforced the health of the baby, who you can see laying on top of the mother, and that it would live to be an adult. The next marker was at 3 months, I believe.

This work is Rosa Elena’s legacy. Not only her own but that of her people. She passed too young at 46 in 2005, complications of diabetes.

We will be making another visit to La Galeria in January 2019, and I’m looking forward to it.

 

Categories: cultural interests, Maya, Spiritual Travel, Visual Arts | Tags: , , , | Leave a comment

Unearthing of the One Tribe

Early morning as it was drawing to a close, I reflected on our journey in the lowlands and highlands of Chiapas. I don’t quite know how to describe what I was feeling in this time of unearthing. Some mixture of great gratitude and overwhelm. Not overwhelm in the way I may sometimes feel it at home when I have too much to juggle at once. Rather it was the sense of overwhelm that comes when so much has happened of a sacred nature. You can bathe in it…even though the deeper meaning isn’t yet realized. But my mind’s attempts arising nonetheless.

Words broke through in staccato—bullet points. My hand flew to jot them down. Each one came illustrated with examples from the Maya people themselves.

Sacrifice

The religious officials in the Chiapas highlands carry cargo, a term to describe the responsibilities they take on to maintain their traditions, to care for the saints, to make sure the processionals occur as they have for many hundreds of years. And house the saints well between times so they will receive the prayers of believers. Carrying cargo is a burden taken on for the sake of the community, done through community. Tasks are divided and shift to others from year to year. No one person can do it all. The strain is too great on family finances and time away from the fields. These are not paid positions. They do it because, if they didn’t, a way of life that connects all things would otherwise disappear into the ether from which it emerged.*

Don Antonio

Don Antonio signaling the start of the balché ceremony.

For some, the sacrifice is ongoing. I always think of Don Antonio Martinez, the last Lacandón Maya Elder still holding the rituals of his people, faithfully feeding the gods, laying down the prayers to create balance in their rainforest home. His is not an easy life when others have turned away to foreign religions or the influx of material things, when he is nastily pressured by converts to give it all up. I’m guessing he hangs on because he recognizes his soul would otherwise suffer, and he cannot find it within himself to abandon the gods.

Humility

For me, a clear measure of an authentic spiritual leader or healer is humility. If their ego isn’t making pronouncements, they can approach their work with compassion. Connection to the person in front of them, and their community, is genuine.

Don Xun Calixto, Tzotzil Maya of San Juan Chamula, is a profound example of that for me. Over and over, I’ve witnessed his ability to put his fingers on a person’s wrist, someone he’s never met before, and listen to their blood. Then with gentle words tell them the exact nature of what they need to let go in order to heal, his words confirmed when his patient bursts into tears as he holds them in a comforting hug. The care and precision in which he lays the altar, and how he sinks to his knees and utters the prayers to carry the healing. Or the relief a patient displays when he tells them they can put fears aside because they’ve already overcome their trial.

Don Xun

Don Xun listening to the blood.

Today we don’t think of political leaders having humility, the opposite so often true. In ancient times though, Maya kings and queens were spiritual leaders and protectors. Indeed, they were seen as gods incarnate, walking among the people, making personal sacrifices. Humility displayed itself in the bloodletting rituals they undertook upon their own person. For the kings, thrusting a stingray spine through the penis; for the queens, through the tongue. Their blood dripped onto a paper then burned, taking the blood prayers for good crops to the heavens.

In the Popol Vuh there is explicit counseling against narcissism and pompous behavior. Seven Macaw, a demon parading as a god, claimed to be the sun and the moon. He terrorized the people and puffed himself up with jewels and arrogant proclamations. In doing so, he gained the attention of the Hero Twins, Hunahpu and Xbalanque, who noted his evil and summarily took him out.**

Courage

Depending on the nature of an affliction the people consult different types of healers. An example would be Doña Maria, a curandera who attended us during this recent journey. Her prayers will cure an earache or get an innocent man out of jail.

Doña Maria

Doña Maria making her initial prayers before beginning clearing sessions.

But when someone thinks the ailment involves the supernatural, particularly witchcraft, they will go to Don Xun. And if he diagnoses soul loss, he will be called upon to descend into the Underworld, through trance or dream, with a dire mission. Not an undertaking for the faint of heart, Don Xun must wrestle the person’s soul away from the Earth Lord. In this process his prayers return the patient to wholeness.***

Don Xun

Don Xun laying an altar.

Persistence

In the face of great adversity, I witness quiet persistence, strength and faith in the person of Don Antonio in the tiny village of Nahá.

Emerging from the 1990s genocide in Guatemala and Chiapas, the Maya have not been defeated. Particularly the Zapatista Movement in Chiapas is alive and well. Nonviolent marches protesting treatment by the Mexican government regularly occur. At the entrance of villages, signs proudly declare a people in resistance. While behind the scenes, Zapatistas are not merely complainers but have actively established their own Indigenous schools, clinics and pharmacies using traditional ways.

Integration

Throughout the Indigenous communities of Chiapas, I am consistently reminded of a way of life that integrates spirituality into everyday life…and the grounding that brings. As I’ve returned to my geographic home base in the US, I’m also reminded just how fragile that way of life is with the forces active to destroy. I am aware of the soul loss within this nation ⏤ including my own. And the need to pull together, so that we do not feel as though we are merely one…but the One Tribe.

♦♦♦

* Outward appearances may confuse outsiders into thinking Catholicism is being practiced in the Maya highlands. This is not the case. Instead the saints have been converted. Each one carries the meaning and stories the Indigenous people have given them, and the spirit of the forest permeates the church with trees (pine boughs), mist (copal incense) and fireflies (a multitude of candles).

**The Popl Vuh is the K’iche’ Maya creation story and historical references originally documented in Maya hieroglyphics, transcribed in the 16th century.

***One of the worst curses perpetrated upon someone is due to envy. One person seeks to usurp what another has and, through witchcraft, captures the soul and offers it to the Earth Lord. In the Tzoltil Maya religion, the Earth Lord rules the Underworld and owns all the natural resources. The Earth Lord, represented as a greedy ladino with a cowboy hat sitting on a bull, may grudgingly provide, but may also take away on a whim. In Chiapas when a shaman of Don Xun Calixto’s stature engages with the Earth Lord it is not done through hallucinogens or alcohol but, as described, through trance, dreams and prayer. These undertakings are every bit as real as anything in the material world involving battles and danger.

♦♦♦

All images in this article ©2017 Carla Woody. All rights reserved.

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Categories: Global Consciousness, Gratitude, Indigenous Wisdom, Maya | Tags: , , , | 2 Comments

Hopi Qawinaq: Our People the Hopi

In March 2016 Maya Daykeeper Apab’yan Tew was sponsored by Kenosis Spirit Keepers as a guest on the spiritual travel program on Hopi. He was quite taken with his experience there and just sent me his thoughts. I want to share them here to show just little difference there is between any of us at the core level.

Apab'yan Tew

Maya Daykeeper Apab’yan Tew communicating to Hopi Land through his flute, March 2016.

There has been always a problem to determine what is Mesoamerica as such.  A territory? A cultural frame? A shared philosophy between related languages? Is it an absurd idea coming from a researcher’s desk? Maybe it’s just the obsession to try to classify everything!

When eating corn,  beans and chilis in the house of a friend, I feel no distance in my heart. Moenkopi, deep in what is now the modern United States, is ⏤for me⏤the town next to where I come from. But what am I saying? I’m from Guatemala! Let me say something: I no longer care about classification. The Hopi people are also my people.

We speak same way about the wind, the water, the air. We treat the bird, the snake, the rainbow, the rain…with respect. The living and the dead. Nobody knows where the link begins for us although Hopi elders retain their oral history about that. I believe what they say! Now, I ask my own elders: Did our brothers…some brothers…go to live far to the north?

I’m waiting for answers. And I will tell you what it is said here in my heart: It will come that we are the same people. Beloved and respected elders will speak  to us all again.

⏤Apab’yan Tew

Join us for our March 15-21, 2017 Spiritual Travel to Hopi: Sacred Guardians of the World to experience what Tat Apab’yan relays here.

Categories: Global Consciousness, Hopi, Indigenous Wisdom, Maya | Tags: , , | 1 Comment

The Selfless Work of an Unheralded Saint

In The Grace of Ayni I began with these words…

There’s a point in spiritual development that—if we’re going any further—we recognize something so important that it will guide us the rest of our lives: It’s not all about us. It becomes a natural act to give back in whatever ways we can, large or small.

Don Sergio Castro is the epitome of such an altruistic person. Quietly, he goes about his humanitarian healing work with Maya communities in Chiapas. For forty-plus years he has continued in the face of severe hardships and little funding support. Through Kenosis Spirit Keepers we do what we can to alleviate his funding worries so he can attend to the important work he does. But so much more is needed.*

In July Dr. Mike Weddle took the time to visit and work with Don Sergio. I want to share with you his impressions.

As a board member of Kenosis Spirit Keepers, I recently visited the healing practice and wound clinic of Sergio Castro in the town of San Cristóbal de las Casas in Chiapas, Mexico. The clinic is partly funded by an adjacent museum of traditional dress, and the funding often comes up short. On the day I visited, there was one group waiting for the museum tour, and another group, the constant line of patients with diabetic ulcers, burns, gangrene, and skin infections. It was clear that Sergio was torn between the wounded, and the paying customers he needed to treat the wounded. As a physician, I pitched in so that he could devote some time with his museum group.

This resulted in an invitation to do house calls with him in town and in the rural hills that surround the town. Some of these people he attends to every day. I can’t reasonably describe what I saw. Maybe I could in a hospital grand rounds, but not here, to a non-medical audience, who would find such descriptions horrific. From my work in Guatemala I know well the hidden people, the paralyzed, the stroke people, and infirmed, that live in the darkness of back rooms of the houses you walk by, or houses you see dotting picturesque hillsides. We saw a child who in the U.S. would be in a hospital burn unit, and a diabetic man who would be in an operating room. We did surgery at the edge of a cornfield. It was a privilege working with him for this one day, but he is there every day. It’s hard to imagine what these people would do without him.

museum clinic

Dr. Mike Weddle (left) and Don Sergio Castro (right) at the textile museum-clinic in San Cristobal de las Casas.

Don Sergio

Don Sergio Castro tending to a patient in the field.

I have personally witnessed the patients waiting for Don Sergio’s care at his museum-clinic. But Mike’s descriptive words of working with Don Sergio in the field…just take my heart. He brings to mind Mother Teresa. The difference: Don Sergio has no church behind him; no rich foundations sustaining his work. Yet he continues because he must.

Thank the gods there are such people in the world.

*****

*Read more on Don Sergio’s work and view the documentary El Andalon (The Healer) here.

During our January Maya spiritual travel program to Chiapas we visit Don Sergio and bring donations of simple medical supplies and support funds. These monies come from tuitions for travel program and any other donations. if you’d like to help, go here.

Categories: Maya, Sacred Reciprocity, Spiritual Evolution | Tags: , , | Leave a comment

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