Spiritual Travel

Indigenous to the Journey

Imagine a people whose origins were once lost to time but who are now thought to have come from northwest India…who—in their own region—endured plunder, massacre and enslavement over 500 years and beyond at the hands of foreign rulers. The result finally creating a diaspora, spread over the world, in search of home…over 1500 years to present day.

When doors were shut to them, the road and their culture endured. It was a way of life. They were so close knit—for mere survival—that, for many of their present-day groups, it’s still a taboo to associate with outsiders except for livelihood…when they themselves are considered so. They’re communal, strict about their traditions and syncretic religion. They’re known for passionate song, music and dance, having influenced jazz, flamenco, and even classical music. They are mostly entertainers, artisans, laborers and trades people. Along with the Jewish people, they were the first target for annihilation by the Nazis, and their women underwent forced sterilization. Despite this, their culture maintains the heady expression of freedom, along with protection of their own.

For the rest of the world, they largely retain an air of mystique and are reviled or barely tolerated. Objects of fear. After all, they live outside the mainstream. They’re different. How can “other” be good?

Their names for themselves vary depending on country—Romanichal (England), Romansæl (Norway and Denmark), Sinti (Germanic countries), Manush (France), Kalo (Spain, Wales and Finland)—or clans—the Kalderash, Machvaya, Boyash, Lovari and others.

The Romani or Roma people are known to non-Roma by a number of names depending where they are: gitans, ciganos, zingari, gíftoi and others, along with the derogatory term gypsy.

Dispersed as the Roma are, in late May, from great distances, they stream into a diminutive French town in the Camargue on the Mediterranean Sea. In a massive gathering, they come to venerate, celebrate and reunite through the passions of devotion, music and processional.

For it is here the three Marys, Sarah—and some say—Lazarus and Maximin landed safely on the shores of Gaul in their tiny boat, site of the present-day Saintes-Maries-de-la-Mer. To the Roma she is known as Sara-la-Kali, Sara the Black, their patron saint, an adolescent Egyptian maid who accompanied the Marys. To others, Saint Sarah is the daughter of The Magdalene and Jesus.

And we will be there…women on pilgrimage of spiritual travel…sourcing the ways of love and light. We will be there for the music, dance, making our own prayers as we witness Sara-la-Kali…Saint Sarah in her glorious vestments carried from the church on the shoulders of the Roma, accompanied by the famous Camargue white horses, into the sea.

In Latcho Drom—meaning Safe Journey—you can catch a glimpse of this passion toward the end. Latcho Drom is a 1993 documentary about the Roma by filmmaker Tony Gatlif, himself Roma. This film is a cinematographic masterpiece telling the story of a people through song, dance, music and community. It subliminally tracks their geographic diaspora until you finally realize the whole by the end of the film.

This version of the documentary includes sporadic English subtitles of lyrics, just enough to emphasize the beauty and—later—the poignancy of the scenes.

In one with exuberant music and celebration that continues late into the night until the fire has burned out, a man sings and gestures first to a woman in their circle and then to the moon…

…I have placed my bed in a delicious spot. How can I sleep without you?

 Later…

…In the grounds of my coffee cup, I see your image…It drives me mad…

 And much later in scenes toward the end…

…We are cursed to wander all our lives…Deliver us from our trials…We fled from hate…No one will ever change our way of life…Me? I am a black bird who has taken flight…

 Latcho Drom may be viewed in its entirety streaming online for free. This is a haunting, inspirational depiction of a beleaguered people with a rich heritage not widely known. Highly recommend. 1 hour, 38 minutes.

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The May 20-29, 2020 women’s pilgrimage, Spiritual Travel to Southern France: Sourcing the Ways of Love and Light, takes place in the Languedoc and Provence focusing on Mary Magdalene, the Cathars, art and bounty of the land. There are currently 2 spaces open with group size very limited to maintain depth of process and outcome for participants.

Categories: cultural interests, Film Review, Indigenous Rights, Indigenous Wisdom, Spiritual Travel | Tags: , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Film: Sacred Trances of Java and Bali

I want to say upfront this is the most remarkable film of its type I’ve seen. Just in the first seconds of the documentary, before an actual image came, the hair rose on the back of my neck. My skin tightened into goosebumps. The staccato chant I heard was well familiar to me.

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Bali Temple, 2007. Photo: Carla Woody

The film is specifically focused on the phases of ritual trance dancing of Java and Bali, particularly the horse dance where the dancer becomes the ‘horse’ he is ‘riding.’ It features elements to induce a trance: dance, drum, chant, whip, hyperventilation, meditation and acting ‘as if.’ Once entering trance, there’s no question the dancers are in another dimension altogether. To the point, after the ritual is complete, their fingers will not loosen from their stead or their body is completely rigid. These are no actors. You will see the dancers guided into and out of trance by the village shaman.

I appreciated the film underscored that these were ordinary people transformed into extraordinary personage through spiritual intent…and so affected return to their everyday lives. The shaman in one part was also shown in his work-a-day world as a government official in his village. One trance dancer was normally a farmer.

I know these things to be true through examples. Long ago, I remember participating in a Sufi retreat with a particularly adept Sufi teacher. At home he was a barista. I work with Maya religious leader-healer Xun Calixto who lives in a hamlet above San Juan Chamula in Chiapas. When not attending to his sacred duties, he works as a gardener.

Another interesting aspect highlighted is the syncretic nature of the religions in Bali and Java. Before other influences moved in and overtook them, Indonesia practiced pure animism. In Java, Hinduism arrived first, which the people incorporated for 800 years until Islam made inroads and prevailed. At that point, Hinduism moved on to Bali and remained. But in each instance elements of their original animism were maintained and expressed in isolated villages or special holidays, depicted well in the film.

To diverge a bit more, it made me think of the Maya people of Mexico and Guatemala, especially in San Juan Chamula. The church there was taken back from the Catholics in no uncertain terms. Yet, they have Catholic processionals on a saint’s day and allow the token priest to take part. The saints in glass boxes still line the walls. But the pews are gone and Maya forms of healing and prayer occur instead. It was a curiosity to me until I learned that the saints may be there, but the Maya people have their own stories about them, resoundingly connecting them to their land. The place is imbued with a sense of the sacred felt viscerally every bit as much as what’s shown in the film I’m reviewing.

You may be wondering how it is I immediately recognized the staccato chant that recurs throughout the documentary. In 2007 I was in Ubud, Bali presenting at a conference and elected to stay on afterward to experience more of its beautiful traditions. One night I attended a dance performance. I had no idea what it was but came highly recommended to me. I was myself entranced the entire time, not moving a muscle even for a while after it was over. It had a number of the same components I’ve discussed here—the ongoing staccato chant rising and falling—but also fire dancing and throwing with no one harmed. It was done at night. Mesmerizing. It’s stayed with me over the years. Whenever I thought of Bali, what I witnessed that night automatically emerged. Yet I had no reference for it until I watched this film. After I viewed it for the third time, I did some research and found the traditional Kecak ritual dance as a type of exorcism. The version I saw was created in the 1930s for Westerners by German artist Walter Spies and Indonesian dancer Wayan Limbak. Not exactly what was in the film. But still… Below you’ll see a good example of the Kecak dance I saw back in 2007.

It’s incredible the filmmakers—Elda Voelkel Hartley and Irving Hartley—were able to document these rituals, obviously done with great respect, which is why they gained permission. This 29-minute documentary is a true tribute to such sacred traditions. It doesn’t matter that if was produced in 1976. These things are timeless.

Watch the Hartley Productions full documentary Sacred Trances of Java and Bali for free streaming here.

 

 

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

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.

✥✥✥

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

 

 

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

Spiritual Travel to Peru: The Heart of the Andes

SPECIAL ANNOUNCEMENT

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Inka Cross at the Island of the Moon. Photo: Carla Woody.

Spiritual Travel to Peru: The Heart of the Andes
October 20-30, 2019

An Intimate Journey Honoring the Peoples of the Eagle and Condor.

Co-sponsored by Kenosis and Kenosis Spirit Keepers.
A portion of tuition tax-deductible.

Registration discount until May 31.

We are pleased to announce our 2019 spiritual travel journey to Peru, an immersion experience in sacred ways linking the Indigenous peoples of the Andes and High Jungle.
We begin in areas outside Cusco with Doña Vilma Pinedo, born into a long lineage of respected Quechua paqo’s— traditional Wisdom Keepers and mystics. Through her teachings and rituals we first experience ayni — sacred reciprocity— and how to guide through dreams and divination.

In a nighttime audience with a well-known Altomisayoq, high priest in the Andean Way, we touch the invisible world in a session where the mountain and earth spirits manifest and answer our personal questions. Then encounter condors, representatives of the Upper World, in their natural habitat riding the air currents in front of us. A beautiful sacred site by a Pachamama cave is the place that frames a day of ceremony and community with Q’ero paq’os, ushering us fully into the world of the Andes.

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Q’ero despacho ceremony. Modesto Machacca Apaza breathing prayers into a coca kintu (prayer offering). Photo credit: Cécile Sother.

Transitioning through the Cloud Forest, we float down the Alto Madre de Dios — High Mother of God — deep into the jungle to the pristine, wild surroundings of the Manu Biosphere Reserve. There we come to engage with Huachipaeri-Matsigenga ceremonial teachings and medicine ways of the jungle with Elder Don Alberto Manqueriapa. It’s said he carries the rainforest in his soul.

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Despacho with Don Alberto Manquierapa, 2-day ceremony in high jungle. Photo: Carla Woody

Throughout our travels Carla Woody guides the grounding of your experiences so that you may take them home to inform your life in transformational ways.

Sponsored Guests Through your tuition and private donations we are sponsoring a Native Wisdom Keeper from the US to join us for the entire journey.

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Sacred mountain Apu Ausangate. Photo: Carla Woody

This is a journey of ayni — sacred reciprocity. We sit in ceremony of all these traditions, become an allyu — spiritual community — honoring all that sustains the planet and our own wellbeing. We come together with blessings, prayers and share the daily activities of all pilgrims.

Registration is limited to maintain the intimate nature. A portion of tuition is tax-deductible to help preserve continuity of Native wisdom traditions through the support programs of Kenosis Spirit Keepers, the nonprofit extension of Kenosis.

 

For detailed information including itinerary, tuition, bios, and how to register, go here.

Early registration discount ends May 31. Register now to hold your space!
Registration deadline September 20, 2019.

For questions call 928-778-1058 or email cwoody@kenosis.net.

I am privileged to bring you such a special opportunity – one you’re not likely to find on your own. I have been offering this program since 2000 and have developed relationships with authentic spiritual leaders and healers who serve their communities. Join me for this Adventure of the Spirit…and know that you are supporting continuation of the invisible, sacred threads that hold the world together.

Categories: Andean Cosmology, Global Consciousness, Indigenous Wisdom, Q'ero, Spiritual Travel | Tags: , , , , , , | Leave a comment

The Great Becoming

This is the time of drawing together the threads of where you’ve been and what you’ve experienced. Typically, we all do it in one way or another. Unconsciously, we all agree upon this premise: The new year is a line of demarcation, artificial though it may be. There’s the thought of something new on the horizon, maybe more, some kind of movement and being refreshed, perhaps even stated goals. I almost cringe when I write that last word, a surface structure declaration having little to do with an evolutionary or revolutionary process ⎯ depending on your personal preference for rate of speed.

But what if you went deeper? What if you consider the deep structure? Determine if you’re presenting yourself to the artificial line of demarcation…or a true threshold. So that’s the first consideration and choice.

If you go for the threshold, you elected for the Great Becoming. I’d like to tell you it’s a magical spell, one that you cast during an exotic ritual. But it’s not. Don’t let anyone try to convince you otherwise. I could say it’s easy, that you won’t be frightened, challenged or confused. But I won’t lie to you…because I’ve been there and anticipate being there to varying degrees again.

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In the time of monsoons. Photo: Carla Woody

It takes courage, commitment, paying attention and making the incremental choices that are most aligned with where and how you want to be in the world. Careful discernment. It means discovering ways to dispense with whatever had been holding you back and took you offline, usually at an unconscious level, as well as giving yourself permission to operate differently.

I will tell you that it’s bound to create chaos if you jump in with both feet. Some of us have more stomach for navigating upheavals than others, which is absolutely fine either way. I will also tell you the path levels out as you make new choices that serve you well. That doesn’t mean tremors will completely go away. Often, full-blown eruptions occur just as you ready yourself to step through the next threshold and then the one beyond that. It’s normal. Challenges and tests present themselves to see if you really mean it.

For me, the life you live ⎯ meaning any of us ⎯ is a deeply spiritual journey meant to return you to the place of purity where you began. By necessity, part of the trip is getting distracted along the way. There’s no point in beating yourself up about it. It’s a sign indicating you’ve fallen away from your Self, and introducing foreign territory is the cure.

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The clarity of night. Photo: Carla Woody

There then is a choice point, a fork in the road. We all face them to lesser and larger degrees. If you choose to ignore the signs, then things will occur in ways that can be painful but probably not unexpected. Rather than remaining stalled, you can take responsibility and deviate…off the beaten path. When you do, you begin to regain that sense of Self. You experience an Initiation brought about by your own accord. In turn, it produces the momentum that feeds Readiness…the final element required to compel you through the Threshold. This is the process of the Great Becoming that, if you’re determined, continues as long as your breath. It’s a conscious one.

With every footfall you create your own story and legacy. If anything, these quieter times of stillness are opportunities to be introspective. Take yourself back over the lands you’ve traveled…in all your years. Where have you placed your feet? How was that landscape your teacher and what did it hold to be true over time? At what points have you experienced Initiation? It’s equally as important to acknowledge these truths and embody the grace you yourself have created, and where else you want to go.

Categories: Contemplative Life, Spiritual Evolution, Spiritual Travel | Tags: , , , | 3 Comments

To Be Caught

I had the overwhelming pull to get out on the land. To place my feet solidly and walk. To be conscious of placing each footstep. I did…for some miles. I found it imperative. That – even though I was exhausted, arriving home just the night before from a very long journey. Writing now, a few days later, I recognize – by surrendering to that draw – I began my integration process, and I hold a new awareness.

I was summoned by the wild land where I live – not some random thought of my mind. Having learned what I’d learned in the land over the ocean, Re-entry required this physical act. It’s about engagement, like introducing a new friend to an old one who needed no explanation when both had claimed me. Neither were jealous, and I’d allowed myself to be caught. Somehow this recognition has further solidified my grounding. The giving over. Surrendering. Whatever you want to call it, know that it had nothing to do with the mind and everything to do with the heart.

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We sat in circle, having settled into this spacious, high-ceilinged room in a 16th century building, now a small family-run hotel in Arles. I began to lay some initial groundwork for entry into our journey in Provence. I talked to the women about the land. There are certain places in the world that hold a form of magic. Hard to articulate, it comes out through its attraction and what it produces. Provence is one of those places. To feel such depth, it must be welcomed through pure immersion. As that happens, it touches aspects of ourselves we didn’t know existed. Then we can begin to understand the beauty the Provençal land produces, attraction to artists, other makers…and the currents that brought Mary Magdalene, Mary Jacobi, Mary Solomé and Sarah – also known as Sara-la-Kali, adopted by the Romani people as their patron saint – to land on its shores.* We can also begin to sense its effect on us.

I acknowledged the controversy surrounding Mary Magdalene’s role, who Sarah may have been and the question of whether they and the other Marys had been there at all. I invited the women to sweep it all away – all that chattering distraction – and just be present to what their own experiences tell them.

The next day we drove to the small Camargue village of Saintes-Maries-de-la-Mer where the Marys and Sarah landed. We were to visit Notre Dame de la Mer. This is the church venerating Sarah, Mary Solomé and Mary Jacobi who chose to live there.  It holds their relics and has an underground crypt especially designated to Sarah. It’s said many healings have taken place through prayers that are left.

This is sacred ground. To enter carelessly doesn’t do it justice. We first went to the shoreline where I invited the women to find their place, connect with the land and put themselves back in time, to the time when the boat rode the waves onto the beach. Some were overcome there. Others as we went through the doorway of the church. Some while leaving their prayers with Sarah. Not one was untouched.

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Saint Sarah’s crypt in Notre Dame de la Mer, Saintes-Maries-de-la-Mer. Photo: Carla Woody.

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Stained glass window above the main altar in the Basilica of Mary Magdalene, St. Maximin. Photo: Carla Woody.

A few days later at the Basilica of Mary Magdalene in the village of St. Maximin, where her relics rest, the pilgrimage continued as did the effect. Before we began the long climb up to Mary’s Grotto on St. Baume, I suggested we pause again to put ourselves through time, ultimately to the time Mary would have climbed this mountain herself. There would have been little path, if any, the forest completely wild, full of feral life we no longer see there. I walked slowly, noticing the stillness of the woods save periodic songbirds and the conversation of others climbing ahead.

I found Mary’s Grotto as I had in my other times there. I wiped away the chapel and altars that had been placed for worship. Instead, listening to the sounds of dripping water, feeling the damp and sensing her presence. Being still.

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Saint Mary Magdalene’s Grotto at St. Baume. Photo: Carla Woody.

Taking a different trail down, it was rocky, more steep, sometimes slippery from previous rains. Much like life. I paid attention to where I placed my feet. Somehow, I felt the place impressing itself upon me. Or maybe it was an exchange.

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Within the safe haven of circles, I invite travelers to share their personal experiences: insights, questions, struggles, if they wish. Not for others to resolve or analyze but to witness. Witnessing is a sacred role we fulfill for each other. It brings things to earth rather than flying around in the ether. In this way, each one’s process is acknowledged as significant and supports an evolutionary unfolding.

When we close our circle at the end, I speak to them on the elements of Re-entry, a phase of the journey that is quite real and continues, sometimes for months or longer. It’s about integration. Something that naturally occurs to bring our learnings to bear upon life at home. Best approached with eyes wide open and embraced, I lead them through a recapitulation of our times together suggesting they pay attention to what comes to the forefront to be carried home. Sometimes words escape us, seeds still germinating. But – always – we feel the presence of something growing.

There were two facets from our immersion in Provence that featured prominently for me this time, at least what I was aware of in the moment. I voiced them. The first was the way the people of Provence spoke about the Marys and Sarah. It was matter of fact. There was no engaging in the controversy flying around elsewhere in academia, religious entities, or popular media. They had existed there, celebrated annually on hallowed ground through festivals and the churches built to them. They are solidly implanted in Provençal cultural memory. The land holds them.

My take-away:

There will always be detractors and distractors. Focus on what you know to be true and hold it in your soul.

The second had to do with the colors in the land and how they’re reflected throughout Provence in the food, art, architecture and geniality of the people. Ochres, blues and greens. They made me happy and something more I can’t yet give words to. I vowed they would find more of a place in my home.

My take-away:

When something touches you deeply, bring it into your home. It’s a visible reminder of what’s become a part of you. We don’t leave things behind. They dwell within the sanctuary of our Core.

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Mt. Sainte-Victoire outside Aix-en-Provence. Photo: Carla Woody.

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Windmill in the village of Goult. Photo: Carla Woody.

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Architecture, Aix-en-Provence. Photo: Carla Woody.

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When we journey in foreign lands, we leave the familiar behind. We enter places that are waiting to be known, many of them for us to re-engage with aspects we’ve forgotten.

Western people don’t belong to the land – unless born into a culture that supports it, or consciously becoming part of it over time. It means being present. To disregard the urge to move on too quickly. It means to linger. It means to return, to know it even more so. To surrender and let go of thoughts that take up space.

Only then can we be caught.

Only then can the secrets that we knew all along be divulged.

*****

* Mary Solomé was the mother of apostles James the Greater and John. Mary Jacobi was the mother of apostles James the Younger (or Lesser) and Joseph. Sarah is said to be the daughter of Mary Magdalene and Jesus, in other circles the Egyptian servant to one of the Marys. Also know there are stories of others in the boat including Lazarus, Martha and Maximin. I’m writing of those who are acknowledged in the places we went.

*****

There were so many elements that made up our spiritual travel in Provence. I already know I will be writing more…in appreciation. This is just the first blush.

 

 

 

Categories: Contemplative Life, Global Consciousness, Sacred Reciprocity, Spiritual Evolution, Spiritual Travel | Tags: , , , , | 2 Comments

My Annual Pause: Accessible Mystery in the Périgord Noir

I entered the dark, narrow passageway. The temperature dropped considerably from the heat outside. More than that, I was immediately aware of the overwhelming rush of energy I felt through my body. Was it because I was in very close quarters? I’d been in caves before and hadn’t experienced anything of the like. It seemed to vibrate off the very walls and permeate the air, alerting me to sacred space. Something of significance happened here, was resident here. I felt it.

I was in the Vézère Valley in the Dordogne of southwestern France, this section called the Périgord Noir, a lush area of narrow winding roads through thick forests. It’s home to the medieval town of Sarlat-la-Canéda, where I was staying, hidden spots that touch the soul, and a system of caves full of engravings and paintings going back to 23,000 BCE. The area had been declared a UNESCO World Heritage location, but I’d never heard of it. I was there explicitly due to Beebe Bahrami’s book Café Oc that spoke of its richness and accessible mystery. The Périgord Noir came at the end of my Annual Pause, this time a memorable, month-long sojourn in France that took me through Paris and southward to the tiny town of Durfort in the Tarn for an art retreat then on to Sarlat, finally ending in Toulouse. This is the leg I want most to share, particularly since the energy of the region is still resonating so strongly for me.

Hallowed Caves of the Périgord Noir

You have probably heard of Lascaux and maybe Rouffignac. It’s no longer possible to enter Lascaux. Now there’s a sophisticated reproduction to go through instead. To view Rouffignac, tourists board a little train, probably similar to the miners’ train I straddled as a child visiting the salt mines of Salzburg. That’s not the experience I wanted. I wanted to get the real feel of these caves. I wanted to put my feet where ancient ones had, be able to closely examine the expressions and impressions they’d left.

Les Combarelles and Font-de-Gaume were top on my list, and I’d had little hope of actually going. Access was strictly limited to no more than 8 and 12 people at a time, respectively, and just a few opportunities to enter per day. In research, I’d read about people showing up outside the ticket office from 6 AM or before in high season, holding a place in line — for hours — to buy a ticket to go later in the day. I suppose I might have done that.  But I was without a car, and I could find no small group tour to take me.

There’s a bizarre regulation in the region that works against solo travelers. A tour agency must have at a minimum two people to proceed. Don’t ask me why. Finally, I found a taxi-tour service who, due to the way their business was set up, could slip in between the cracks of that ruling and accommodate me with my personal itinerary. Thankfully, Christoph, the owner, was able to wrangle secured entry for me ahead of time. No waiting. His wife Sarissa, my driver that day, told me Christoph had been born in the area. He was part of a group of about forty locals who, having grown up there, felt so strongly about their homeland they’d banded together to ensure quality tourism.

Les Combarelles sat across a green, well back from the road on the other side of an old stone farmhouse. Sarissa was well satisfied to deliver me into the hands of Pascal, who played a part in the conservation effort she’d mentioned. I completed the group, the rest being French, and Pascal began to lay the groundwork for what we were to see beyond. There were two passages, one open to the public. The cave’s entrance was originally excavated by archaeologist Emile Riviere in 1892. However, it was the owner, Monsieur Berniche, who discovered the rock art in 1902. I put myself in his place at that moment and got chills imagining what it must have been like to stumble upon something unexpected…and so obviously old.

Before we entered, everyone had to store anything they were carrying. Nothing could bump the cave walls. Such was their fragility. We were warned not to brush the walls in passing and to watch our heads. The cave floor had been lowered about a foot to provide a bit more access. But still it was close quarters. I had to be alert. The electric light was quite subdued, barely enough to light the way. Somehow the place played with my sensibilities. I wanted to crouch and duck walk, which is what the artists must have done or crawled on hands and knees in places. The engraved images number 600 or more of those thus far discovered, thought to be from 12,000-10,000 BCE, carved at different times.

It wasn’t long before we came across the initial art. It wasn’t merely an image here and there. It was a very long stretch, like herds of animals drawn one over the other or intersecting as though jostling for their place. The cave was active.

I couldn’t begin to imagine how M. Berniche could have known what he was looking at except undecipherable scratches and scrawling. When Pascal waved a hand light over an area, that’s all I saw. It wasn’t until he used his laser light to outline individual animals that my eyes adjusted…and I was amazed. I had expected very simplistic engravings. Most were surprisingly detailed and accurate to life, or a sweeping line suggesting movement. To me, that requires a sophisticated eye.

I anticipated seeing mammoths, bison and reindeer, but not a tiger, horses, bears and rhinos. There were also a few male and female figures. Curiously, the female figures were never anatomically complete. The head or arms were omitted, even breasts. But not grand derrieres, which were always depicted. I have a theory. These omissions were an act of reverence in that, as in some traditions or religions, something so venerated must not be named. The incomplete female images or symbols like vulvas, which also appeared, were ways to allude to the Sacred Feminine, a laying down of prayers for fertility.

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Horse. Courtesy Don’s Maps. Photo: Heinrich Wendel (© The Wendel Collection, Neanderthal Museum).

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Courtesy Don’s Maps. Drawings by Capitan and Breuil, 1902.

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Tiger. Courtesy Don’s Maps. Photo: Heinrich Wendel (© The Wendel Collection, Neanderthal Museum).

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Courtesy Don’s Maps. Drawings by Capitan and Breuil, 1902.

We continued on until our way was blocked. Finally, it wasn’t possible to go farther unless a squeeze beyond on all fours. I was overwhelmed. Really, it was a lot to take in. These were not sterile renderings. I sensed a place of reverence. I could have stayed for a very long time.

We turned to pick our way back in the barely lit passage. I was glad I was second in line, having a time finding my feet. Especially so when the lead disturbed a large bat. It flew up in front of her, like some horror film. We had to duck and swerve.

I could have ended with Les Combarelles. There was so much to digest, and Pascal truly set the stage and helped bring the site to life. But Font-de-Gaume was barely 5 minutes down the road, and I had a ticket.

Apparently, the Périgord Noir experienced a run of discoveries in the early 1900s. While the Grotte Font-de-Gaume was generally known for some time, the local schoolmaster, M. Peyrony, put significance to the rock art after he’d visited Les Combarelles with an archaeologist. These are the most intact examples of polychrome painting, dating back to 16,000 BCE. About 250 paintings are known at this point, but there may be many more covered up by calcite and iron deposits. As an example, scientists were cleaning the cave walls and uncovered a frieze of five bison, the most preserved due to the deposits. There are about 30 paintings the public is able to view, mostly bison. The artists had many times taken advantage of the natural lines and bulges of the cave walls, so that the figures were brought to life in bas relief.

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Bison. Courtesy Don’s Maps. Photo: Heinrich Wendel (© The Wendel Collection, Neanderthal Museum).

Again, I felt the overwhelming energy throughout the time I was in Font-de-Gaume. There’s no mistaking this, too, was hallowed ground. It couldn’t have been more clear than when the young guide stopped talking and allowed silence to prevail.

Then I touched that other realm that was timeless. I wanted to stay.

An Apparition at Redon-Espic

Jeanne Grave was a simple, 14 year-old shepherdess tending her sheep in deep forest at a winding creek blessed with a spring, a stone hut on the banks for shelter. The story goes that in June 1814 the Virgin Mary appeared and spoke to her in Occitan, Jeanne’s native tongue, and gave a message for her to carry.  Jeanne told her parents that “the pretty lady” said everyone must pray and perform penance, to return to the Church, or they would soon die. This during a time of great taxation, famine and pestilence, probably cholera, when many had fallen away from the Catholic Church.

Jeanne immediately carried the Virgin’s message and beseeched her parents, but was ignored. She knocked at the doors in the small village where she lived repeating the Virgin’s words over and over. She was ridiculed. She herself made the return, regularly performing the rosary and receiving communion. Again in July, the Virgin appeared at the spring repeating the message. Her family and villagers continued to treat her with disdain. In October 1814, Jeanne’s parents died. Jeanne followed a month later. Pestilence took many of the people in the community of Castels fulfilling the Virgin’s prediction, the interpretation being punishment was meted out for lack of faith.

During Jeanne’s burial procession a violent storm broke out, but Jeanne’s coffin, its bearers and the candles lighting the way were completely protected, remaining dry. Local people were so taken with this event, they began to gather in the wild place where Jeanne had experienced the apparition. In 1818, with no formal canonical investigation, the Bishopric of Périgueux sanctioned gatherings at a small, isolated Romanesque church, once a convent, named Redon-Espic close to the shepherd’s keep where it all happened. For more than 20 years to present day on the Sunday closest to September 8, the Virgin Mary’s Feast Day, locals gather at night in deep forest and make a candlelit pilgrimage to the church and on to the shepherd’s keep, which has become a shrine. Prayers are given and offerings made on the stone altar on a rise several yards from the site.

Sarissa was surprised when I told her I’d like to visit Redon-Espic. She said it wasn’t really known to outsiders. She knew how to get there because she rode her horse through that forest. As isolated as this place is now, I can only imagine it more so back in the early 19th century. We drove on dirt roads first arriving at the church.

No one was there, and the doors were unlocked. It had recently received a new roof, curiously made with flat rocks. I remarked on it. It turns out that’s the old traditional way, and the renovators held to it. Sarissa told me to also notice how thick the walls were, made that way to protect from marauders who would attempt to destroy it.

It was quite plain inside. Then I noticed a statue, precariously perched on a stand, in a corner near the altar. It was a depiction of Jeanne and her apparition. The Virgin’s head was missing, probably damaged and not intentional. There were two things about it that got my attention. When I walked around the statue, Jeanne’s gaze was slightly off. It slid by the Virgin like she was looking at something just beyond. The other thing had to do with the Virgin’s lack of hands showing. Maybe they were supposed to be draped inside the sleeves. But these looked fairly flat as though empty. I’m not well versed on typical representations, just what I’ve otherwise seen, and could not find any mention of these two things, which were peculiarities to me.

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Statue of Jeanne Grave and the apparition of the Virgin Mary in Notre Dame de Redon-Espic. Photo: Carla Woody.

I sat in a pew to be present to what was there while Sarissa waited for me outside. Our journey continued down a one-lane dirt road. We reached the site of Jeanne’s vision a few minutes later. I was quite taken with the shepherd’s keep transformed into a shrine. In so many ways it reminded me of St. Brigid’s Holy Well in Liscannor, Ireland where I had a powerful experience. While Jeanne’s place didn’t have as many prayers lodged between the stones in the walls, they were there. So were the spring, icons and candles.  Up the small rise on the altar was evidence of past rituals. Again, this was clearly sanctified space. Its use continued to present day. After a while, we could hear a car coming. We left just as the man parked, to give the newcomer privacy. He got out of his vehicle holding flowers.

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Shrine at Redon-Espic. Photo: Carla Woody.

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Inside Jeanne Grave’s shrine. Photo: Carla Woody.

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Prayers left in the shrine. Photo: Carla Woody.

There are places in the world where the land holds something and waits to reveal itself. In truth, it doesn’t take much to recognize the invitation. It does take a willingness to accept the invitation though, to open to what may not be right in front of your face … then linger.

Categories: Gratitude, Spiritual Travel, Travel Experiences | Tags: , , , , , , | 5 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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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

Revisiting the Wanderings of My Soul

A few weeks ago a friend sent me a note saying she’d begun her morning by watching a video that Kenosis Spirit Keepers* produced from footage of one of my spiritual travel programs in Peru. We went on to have an exchange on how such things touch us and change our lives.

Our brief discussion didn’t leave me. Over these last days a multitude of memories kept popping up, the journeys I’ve taken, people I’ve encountered, that have inspired me onto a different, deeper track. Some of these were undertaken with a clear frame of intent, others happenstance I never could have predicted.

In all of this, a particular time came to mind again and again, probably because its 3-year anniversary is nearly upon me. But I’d already been preparing for several months, intensively as it got closer. By now, I was walking 8-10 miles several times a week. It was a trial to squeeze in the training necessary to walk the Camino Francés, from the French side of the Pyrenees to Santiago de Compostela.  However, it was one of those things that I was so drawn to do and didn’t know why.  A must-do. I knew it would stretch me but so had many, many other things I’d embraced.

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I revisited the writings and photos from The Essential Way, the blog I created to document my pilgrimage on the Camino de Santiago. You’re welcome to read the whole blog if you like.

Here’s one I’d like to share with you here. I wrote I’ll Know I’m Home When 12 days after I completed the Camino. I think I was laying over in Paris on my way home. It’s a snapshot of experience and take-aways.

Somewhere along the way, once I got the rhythm down pat, I began to note somewhat tongue-in-cheek differences between daily life on the Camino and home. But the more I listed the more I realized it’s an intimate glimpse of common pilgrim experiences you normally wouldn’t be aware of unless you’d undertaken the journey. I also began to have insights, reminders and resolutions related to some of them that I’ve included at the end.

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I’ll know I’m home when…

   … I’m no longer looking for markers every few minutes to tell me where to go, except perhaps subliminally.

… I’ll no longer be walking continually for 4-8 hours on a daily basis, with the exception of a brief rest or rest day.

… I’ll no longer hear the continual click-click click-click of walking sticks telling me that a pilgrim is coming along the trail.

As sometimes happens, the more I wrote, the deeper the realizations went. I began to sense, in some ways, what it was like to be homeless.

… I’ll have more than one change of clothing.

… I’ll have more choices to wear on my feet than hiking shoes or flip flops.

… I’ll keep my belongings in a closet or chest of drawers rather than a backpack.

… I’ll no longer do my laundry on a daily basis rather than weekly.

… I’ll no longer be required to vacate my lodging each day by 0800, or be restricted in any movement or slight noises between 2200-0630.

… I’ll know on a consistent basis where I’ll lay my head each night.

There are more of those listings. But then there was this…

My Take-Aways…

It’s important to be alert to the lay of the land to avoid becoming lost or overlooking tell-tale signals that things are off track or hidden. I resolve to sharpen my peripheral and x-ray vision.

Flexibility is a virtue. It’s also important to set your limits and abide by them. I resolve to identify with even more depth and breadth what is true for me.

A simple life in the best sense is a pure one, devoid of clutter in the mind or unnecessary material goods, anything that weighs down the spirit. I resolve to up-level my sorting and pitching process.

Nature is a great gift, healer and stress reliever. I’m fortunate to live where I do. Nature—miles of it—is just outside my door. I resolve to do these things more: hike, take breaks, sit on the deck, notice the wildflowers—however small—and watch the lizards, birds and other wildlife. Absorb energy given by the moon, sun, stars, wind and rain with intent to return it in ways that are life-giving.

It continues. You can read the entire piece here.

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I’d had no idea what was in front of me. Do we ever really? We think we do. It’s how we try to control our world. Things can turn on a dime, and they do. If anything, the Camino is the great equalizer. It shows us what we all have in common, that separation is an illusion. It instills humility.

Sitting with the outcome of my Camino, attempting to make sense of the learning, I had come to one understanding. Presence. That one I wrote a bit about.

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Now something else is emerging. Transience. The nature of reality. An awareness we tend to turn away from. But it makes life that much more precious.

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*Kenosis Spirit Keepers is the volunteer-run 501(c)3 nonprofit I founded in 2007 to help preserve Indigenous traditions facing decimation.

Categories: Gratitude, Spiritual Evolution, Spiritual Travel | Tags: , , , | Leave a comment

Xapiri: A Matter of Spirit

In November while in Cusco I was referred to a gallery named Xapiri said to feature textiles and other artwork from the Amazon. It’s unusual to find such a collection in Cusco. So, I was quite intrigued about what they may have but also the name. I was to discover that “xapiri” is a sacred word identifying a collective of spirits consulted for their wisdom and guidance. It comes from the Yanomami people, a somewhat isolated tribe of the rainforest and mountains of northern Brazil and southern Venezuela.

Before I go any further I really want to introduce you to Jack Wheeler, who is the one responsible for birthing the gallery and its work. His story is compelling. He’s an example of someone who received a calling…paid attention…and followed it. Jack and I have corresponded and agreed a full-blown video interview will take place when we can both fit it into our calendars. In the meantime, I can share a shorthand version of his extraordinary story directly from Jack.

As for my story, these are the main points. It’s been eight years ago now that I left my position in an English bank to explore. My first stop was Cusco. I always felt like it’s my spiritual home. But over the next five years I traveled high and wide in South America, and I’d return to live in different European cities for my work. I was never content when in Europe.

Three years ago, after a long travel, I started to get more involved with Indigenous culture, specifically from the jungle. My first inspiration was from the Yanomami lands on the Brazil-Venezuela border. I met Indigenous supporters in Brazil who helped at the beginning of Xapiri with the initial introductions and contacts to the start the fair trade with art. Now full circle, I returned to Cusco, this time to live where my mind was first opened.  The Xapiri Gallery opened its doors in April 2017.

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Jack Wheeler at the opening of Xapiri in April 2017.

I truly resonate with Jack’s story. When the calling comes, if we then sort ourselves out and step fully on the path…all begins to slot in along the way that will further the journey. That doesn’t mean it’s easy. Usually not so much when it comes to breaking out of the mainstream. But through it, intent drives the process until we’re delivered⎯and beyond.

Xapiri has an important mission.

Xapiri supports Amazonian Indigenous culture by unifying ethical art, emotive photography and informative media. The vision is to increase awareness and inspire positive change.

I purchased three pieces. One small Yine textile and two larger Shipibo pieces to add to one I’d purchased years ago. As a narrative artist myself, I greatly appreciate works like these that tell stories, documenting their rituals and traditions.

About the Yine piece, Jack told me:

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I collected this fabric in person when visiting their communities a few weeks ago. Their community is in the Madre de Dios region, 10 hours from Cusco by bus. Then a 2-day boat journey from Puerto Maldonado… then you reach their community called Monte Salvado! By buying their art you are helping maintain their rich culture and identity.

We have only started to work with the Yine people recently so still learning all the time about their fabrics. The fabric is dyed the brown colour by using mahogany and then painted using clay. The Yine have 31 different designs, with this being one. In the next few weeks I hope to have a full collection of these graphics with their meanings! 

Of the Shipibo textiles I bought, he said this:

 

 

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In the two Shipibo pieces, you can see the leaves in both. This is the chacruna leaf, influential in the Ayahuasca brew.

The Shipibo people live along the Ucayali River in the Amazonian rainforest of Peru. These pieces were created through a hand printing process that takes about a month or so to finish. Such textiles are central to their culture and show their communication and merging with the spiritual world of the jungle, particularly through the traditional ritual engaging Ayahuasca.

I’ll leave with this for now until Jack and I can get together for a video chat. If you’re in Cusco, be sure to drop by Xapiri. Aside from the art and film events, they also invite Amazonian artists and shamans to share their traditions. Xapiri’s website is also a wealth of information on different Amazonian tribes.

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Join me for The Heart of the Andes, our spiritual travel journey to Peru in Fall 2019. We’ll be dropping by Xapiri for sure.

Categories: Indigenous Wisdom, Spiritual Travel, Visual Arts | Tags: , , , | 3 Comments

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