Spiritual Travel

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.

Jack Wilson image

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:

Yine image

 

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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Shipibo image 2

 

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

In Memoriam: Doña Panchita of Palenque

There are people who belong to a place in such a way that they become imbued with the very energy resident there. It permeates who they are…and they’re generous with it. Over the years I’ve returned over and over to certain areas that are dear to my heart. In particular ways, I live vicariously through those I’ve known at some depth who have consistently played a part during special journeys. They ground me in the land. When I see them through the years, they reinforce all my experiences by virtue of their physicality. When suddenly that person is no longer there, it leaves a void and a piece of me goes with them.

Doña Panchita, curandera of Palenque, was one of those people. A couple of weeks ago, I received the sad news that she had recently passed. Annually during my Maya spiritual travel program in Chiapas, we would see Doña Panchita for an individual limpia, a clearing session.

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We would go to her home just off the main street running through the town of Palenque and take our places in her waiting room, which doubled as a storage and laundry room. Sometimes kittens would scamper in as the kitchen and rest of the living quarters were through an open doorway on the right. A curtained door next to the washing machine led to the tiny room where she saw patients. We weren’t the only ones waiting. Locals often sat patiently, too. You see, Doña Panchita was respected in Palenque as a bona fide healer. She served her community.

Working through prayer and clearing methods, she alleviated imbalances and dissipated blockages in the emotional and physical bodies, and dispensed with spiritual afflictions. She sent outside interferences packing, such as envy from others, etheric cording that drains, a hex from a sorcerer or any other detrimental attachments.

P1010689Doña Panchita was not given to talking about herself or how she worked. She was humble. In my experience over the years, she was no-nonsense and wanted to get down to business. I imagine this was especially so because she would already have had a full day from early morning working as a maid in a local hotel. That’s before she would begin seeing anyone in her waiting room. But one time her husband slipped in and sat down with us. He disclosed that the spirits of the house, or the small plot of land where it sat, had made their connections with his wife many years ago, and she worked through them.

She was Catholic, deeply religious. Along an entire wall from tabletop to ceiling, was an altar with religious statues and accoutrements of various sizes. She favored Mary. Framed pictures of saints also hung on the wall. I remember being overwhelmed by it the first time I entered the room. Other than the altar there were few furnishings. Mainly two chairs—one for her and one for her patient—and a small table to hold the herbs and other things she used.

LaCruzI remember the first limpia with Doña Panchita maybe ten years ago. She didn’t know me, and I didn’t say anything about myself except whatever she may have gleaned from my request of her, something fairly benign. I closed my eyes and heard her praying under her breath then felt her brushing my body, head to toe, with a branch of holy basil. Once she was done, I opened my eyes. I remember feeling a bit spacey and had glanced over at the altar, which seemed to have come alive. She stood in front of me pointing to an ornate cross around her neck and told me in no uncertain terms that I must immediately buy La Cruz de Caravaca and wear it, that I needed to protect myself because of the work I do. She then called to a young woman, probably a granddaughter, and dictated a prescription instructing me to, once I returned home, bathe in the infused liquid she gave me and purchase some other things to add to the bath. I did both.

During my 2011 session, I told Doña Panchita that I had been feeling off for some time. Nothing seemed to be going well. At every turn there was a roadblock. Sometimes it was worse than others. It didn’t feel like it was something of mine generating the problems. I always look inside myself first to evaluate.

What I had not told her was how uncomfortable I also was in my own home as though I was unwelcome. I often felt on edge. I would frequently wake up in the middle of the night on high alert as though there was an intruder in the house. Sometimes there would be popping noises or the bureau in my bedroom would crack loudly like it was splintering.

I had barely stopped talking when she took hold of my head on either side and began shaking it, making guttural sounds, growling, into the crown of my head. Then praying fervently and whacking me with a water-drenched holy basil branch. Understand this was rough treatment coming from her. She was normally quite gentle. When there was a lull, I opened my eyes to slits just in time to see her holding scissors a foot away from my body. As she began to slice through the air, I can only say it was like floodgates released⎯and whatever had been there…vacated. I felt immediate release…light energy…and extreme relief.

When she was done, she took an egg from the table and cracked it into a glass of water. After a few moments, she showed me the glass, and based on how the egg appeared, that all was well. I don’t know how to read such things. But I certainly took her word for it. I’ll never know the cause of all those troubles and didn’t ask her.

Before I stood, she asked me to open my hands and placed a white flower across my palms. She closed my hands together with her own and said, “For your work.” I was so very touched by her blessing.

After that journey when I walked through my front door, everything looked brighter in color and had a sparkle to it. Really. Whereas, for years I’d been experiencing the things I’d mentioned, from that time forward all has been clear. No more cracking furniture. No more high alert. I am home.

I hold much gratitude toward Doña Panchita of Palenque. I know others do, too. She blessed many with her attention, kindness and skill. She was the real deal and is missed.

 

Categories: Gratitude, Healing, Spiritual Travel | Tags: , , , , | 2 Comments

Spiritual Travel to Peru: The Heart of the Andes

PeruBoliviaCrossSPECIAL ANNOUNCEMENT

Spiritual Travel to Peru: The Heart of the Andes
September 2-12, 2018
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 June 4.

We are pleased to announce our 2018 Spiritual Travel Program to Peru, an immersion experience in sacred ways linking the Indigenous peoples of the Andes and High Jungle.

Through teachings, ceremonies and prayers we engage beyond the material plane and explore other dimensions of ourselves. Quechua and Q’ero paq’os — traditional Wisdom Keepers and mystics — guide us to encounter learnings that usher us into the world of the Andes, an alternate reality of life-affirming choices. Through an Altomisayoq, the highest level of Andean priest-mystic, experience the presence of the Apus⎯mountain spirits⎯and directly receive their guidance. Then encounter condors, representatives of the Upper World, in their natural habitat riding the air currents in front of us.

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

To register and for complete information including  detailed itinerary, guides, tuition and travelers’ stories, go here.


Sponsored Guest: Through your tuition and private donations we are sponsoring a Native American Wisdom Keeper (yet TBD) who will travel with us throughout to share traditions with relations.

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 well-being. We come together with blessings, prayers and share the daily activities of all pilgrims.


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Registration is limited to maintain the intimate nature and has filled quickly in the past. A portion of tuition is tax-deductible to help preserve continuity of Indigenous wisdom traditions through the support programs of Kenosis Spirit Keepers, the nonprofit extension of Kenosis.

Early registration discount ends June 4. Register now to hold your space!
Registration deadline August 2.
For questions call 928-778-1058 or email info@kenosis.net.

Categories: Andean Cosmology, Indigenous Wisdom, Spiritual Evolution, Spiritual Travel | Tags: , , , , , | Leave a comment

Book Review – Café Oc

Are you one of those people who stumbles upon towns or regions that you simply must make your way back to over and over? Those places that reflect some kind of magic in the land? In the air? The people who live there retain it in their blood? It speaks to your very soul…and you can’t stay away? That’s me. I set up my life in such a way that ensures my returns to Chiapas, Cusco and Provence regularly. If I don’t heed the call, I mourn.

Cafe Oc imageBeebe Bahrami, a cultural anthropologist and travel writer, is one of those people, too. Through happenstance, she found herself in Sarlat-la-Canéda in the Dordogne region of southwestern France.  Her times there produced Café Oc ⎯an intimate love story rather than a travel book. She takes us on an unexpected spiritual journey, as she returns to Sarlat through the seasons, over a year’s time. What I spoke of in my life, she found in that medieval town and surrounding earth.

From her first winter, the reader is treated to the author’s initial impressions and evolves from there. Her lodging overlooks the historical area, giving a bird’s eye view of the bustle below, the market and its people. The deeper flavor of Sarlat is revealed as she begins to wander the town, frequents cafés, samples regional dishes and meets some locals. She feels something stirring and makes plans to return. Over the times that follow, she points the way to just what is inherent. The energy of subterranean waterways can be felt and emerge at certain points in town. Ancient peoples left their marks in caves that dot the region, and still have an effect  on the sensitivities of present-day residents. Then there are the sacred sites: natural and human-made.  She reveals what generates and permeates her longing to make this place home.

I became so enchanted with Beebe Bahrami’s soulful accounting of Sarlat that I’ve made arrangements to explore it next year myself. And⎯as happenstance would have it⎯I’m already going to be within two hours of that destination.

Available in print or e-book through Shanti Arts, Amazon and elsewhere.

 

 

 

Categories: Book Review, cultural interests, Spiritual Travel | Tags: , , , , , | Leave a comment

Tinkuy: The Confluence of Relationship

When two separate entities with measures of variance meet at an intersecting point and find their core elements to be the same, something indescribable occurs. Such an encounter, the inherent energy of one to the other, is called tinkuy in the Andean world.  We learn of ourselves because of the other⎯who may seem to reside outside our zone of  familiarity. We begin to understand where we can merge expressly because we begin to see what in the other is in ourselves, too. And we can heal when we allow that recognition. I see this in myself, and I see it in others. When it does and does not occur. I aspire to complete permission and presence. A deeply spiritual path, if you think about it, altogether possible.

Thomas Hatathli is one of the few remaining true Diné medicine men and Blessingway Chanters of his tribe. Last fall I was his patient during a healing session in Arizona. In the midst of it, I had a recognition.

When Thomas began to sing I closed my eyes. Before long I was lost to this world and entered the landscape this Chanter was weaving. Somewhere in there a thought swam up. I’ve heard this before. It sounds so familiar. I grasped to make the connection but couldn’t and surrendered again, letting the songs take me…

…As the last song ended, I opened my eyes and knew how the songs were known to me. Icaros. Just a few weeks before I’d been with Don Alberto Manqueriapa, a respected Huachipaeri-Matsigenga spiritual leader, again in Peru as he sang the icaros during the rainforest rituals that hold the same intent of the Blessingway Ceremony. A return to the natural order. They couldn’t be the same language. Yet they were. And they held the same frequencies. They were drawn from the same place…

I invited Thomas to come on this year’s Peru journey as a guest for this particular reason. So, when we were with Don Alberto in the high jungle of Manu and he began to sing his icaros during ceremony…and I heard Thomas’ voice on the air singing the same words in response…my heart lifted. Later, Thomas said the very same song existed in his tradition.

A few days ago, I received this note.

Thomas Hatathli image.

Thomas Hatathli outside Cusco. Photo credit: Betina Lindsey.

My trip to Peru was beautiful. I felt like I was guided in spiritual ways, what I saw in rainforest and jungle, is what I see when I close my eyes and do the earth prayer in Diné. I saw similarities in how we pray for connection and Hozho to earth, universe, mountain, water, darkness, early dawn, and rock formation.

 I was taken in by the Q’ero natives and lifestyle because that is how Diné people used to live prior to 1970. A time diabetes didn’t exist and Diné knew how to survive and deal with problems. There is much to learn from Native people who remain steadfast to their roots and natural laws. The trip renewed my desire to help in spiritual ways through songs and prayers here at home. 

 Ahe’hee (thank you).

Thomas

Tinkuy can happen with any form, any energetic relationship. Something timeless out of mind. An ancient song. A land. A person. The Cosmos.

 

Categories: Andean Cosmology, Indigenous Wisdom, Sacred Reciprocity, Spiritual Travel, Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , | 3 Comments

When the Invisible Manifests, Part II: A First-Hand Account of Talking with Andean Mountain Spirits

Part II: In which the Apus appeared.

I returned from Peru less than a week ago. My own night experience in the sacred compound, as I’ve given attention to describing it, remains foremost⎯I’ll say in my energy field because my mind can’t hold it or understand what occurred. I’ll admit to being a healthy skeptic for good purpose when there are so many passing themselves off for what they aren’t, sometimes causing great harm. I choose to be vigilant in order to protect myself and any group in my care. After the opportunity to talk with the Apus was offered, I accepted and included it for this year’s journey. Logic offers no answers here and, knowing the steward, I placed trust in him for his offering and the altomisayoq he arranged, one of three he’s worked with over some years.

I hadn’t previously noticed the anteroom where the session would be held. Perhaps the door had been closed when I’d been there before. A few of the group and I ventured inside for a brief look before we went to the temple for preliminary preparations. Immediately upon entering I was aware of the extraordinary energy, so strong it felt like my head would implode and fly off into the cosmos. We didn’t stay long.

The first order was to create a despacho, an offering and prayer bundle to later give to the Apu who governed the surrounding land. We all participated in unwrapping the many chocolates, cookies, candies⎯because the spirits very much enjoy sweets⎯crackers, sea creatures and the rest, while the steward placed all the elaborate piece parts in a particular order. Ultimately, he created a complex structure several inches high, our kintu prayers inserted⎯three coca leaves held together with llama fat topped with a carnation petal. Breath carried our individual prayers on the surface of each one we personally made. Finally, the entire bundle was completely covered with more coca leaves, neatly wrapped in decorative paper and secured. The steward was precise.

We approached the anteroom and filed inside. I wondered how we would all fit as it really was quite small. We numbered fourteen but all managed to find a space on the long benches that wrapped the perimeter, or the couple of chairs finally put in front of the door. The altomisayoq was already in his place in a confined spot in the front corner. The altar to the left stretched most of the space across the front and held flowers, a few capped bottles of soda and beer and ceremonial objects. A painting of Jesus graced the wall above. A waist-high table was immediately against the altar. The altomisayoq was boxed in, no room to exit or other freedom of movement unless he crawled over Marianne and me.

Once all were settled, the steward dropped the heavy curtain over the door. We were in absolute darkness. A few days prior I had prepped the group to have a couple of personal questions ready when it was their turn to speak with the manifested beings. These could be such things as concerns about family, health or relationship matters, advice on a project and the like. While they are not clairvoyant, the beings are wise and give information and suggestions from that standpoint. They can “see” into the body, diagnose health issues and prescribe natural medicines, even surgery, accordingly. If a surgery, they will perform it themselves.* The steward had advised that this space was not yet sanctioned for that purpose. But if a surgery was so prescribed they could go to an audience that would take place elsewhere within a few days. In the darkness, the steward would come get each petitioner and guide them to stand in front of the table to communicate directly with the beings. Marianne would translate the answers given.

We sat in silence. There was no light. My eyes did not adjust to reveal anything other than complete darkness. Suddenly, the altomisayoq chanted an invocation, inviting the beings in by name…then a sharp whistle. My eyes swiveled around the room searching but saw nothing.

Commotion came swiftly. Chaos. Loud flapping of many wings like huge birds⎯or something⎯near the ceiling, it seemed. Whoomp as something landed. Then more. It couldn’t have been but a couple of feet away somewhere there at the altar or maybe the table. Announcements…loud and garbled. The room felt suddenly full of some magnificent energy. Frankly, my mind fled. I couldn’t make sense of it all and have little memory of those first proceeding moments.

Condor image

A condor. Photo: Google, original source unlisted.

I was so confused and, as it turns out, so was everyone else who was having this experience for the first time. I wasn’t sure who or what had shown up until later when their identity was confirmed for us. Those present: Santa Tierra Madre Ascunto de Calca, Señor de Ausangate, Señor de Soqllacassa and Señor Sacsayhuaman Cabildo. †

Ausangate image

Apu Ausangate. Photo: Carla Woody

I was glad the petitions would go in an ordered fashion beginning on the other side of the room for I certainly wasn’t ready yet. I grant that the young woman who was the first of us to approach had courage…when she’d never even been outside the US before or encountered anything like this. A soothing grandmotherly voice welcomed her to the altar and asked, “What can I do for you?” She haltingly asked her questions and received the guidance, then was led by the steward back to her seat. It went like that around the room, the majority speaking to the Santa Tierra. For some it was quite emotional. There were tears. One asked to speak directly to Señor de Ausangate for a matter that directly required his intervention. When he spoke, there was great power and presence. It was a male voice. Some asked for healing or insight to a health issue and later reported a sense of relief and physical uplifting.

Other than times anyone was speaking, noise-making⎯pounding like a drum, a pop, stomping, clicking together of stones or crystals, rustling⎯emitted periodically from different places at the altar. Once I saw sparks, like static electricity up near the ceiling, but nothing else. Across the board, I noted how fluidly answers came, kind wise counsel. There was no hesitation, no searching around for a response.

My turn came. At the altar, the steward stood immediately next to me holding my hand, the other arm wrapped around me. Gentle support. I needed it. The energy was overwhelming. For one who is well used to public speaking and does so easily, I found myself barely able to put any words together. I was disoriented. I had my prepared questions but they wouldn’t assemble themselves to come out my mouth. They finally did though, and Mamita gave her practical, logical response to one and feeling response to the other. Both things I already knew and was validated.

The steward told Mamita I represented the group and had an offering for Señor de Sacsayhuaman, with respect and recognition as the holder of the land where we assembled. When we came in earlier, he’d placed two despachos on the table. The other was from Marianne for a special personal petition.

Señor de Sacsayhuaman bombed into the room. Much to-do. The despacho sounded like it was being torn to smithereens and inhaled…and I felt more waves of energy engulfing me. The offering accepted, my time was done. But instead of the steward leading me back to my seat, he turned his attention to Marianne, who was on his other side, for her petition and offering. His comforting physical support gone, I had the strong urge to grab onto him like a little kid hiding behind a parent⎯although I restrained myself. The woman who sat next to me on the bench later told me, when I never returned, she thought I’d been spirited away by the Apus…

Marianne stated her request fluidly and made her offering, no stumbling around. But then she’d done this several times before. All was then complete. We once again heard the voice of the altomisayoq thanking these manifested beings profusely for answering his call. Mamita’s voice overlapped his, speaking for the Apus and herself, giving blessings and saying goodbye. Again, chaos moved the air, flapping of many wings…silence. The magnificent energy in the room had vacated.

A few seconds later, the steward turned on the lights. All was the same as when we entered. All were in their original places except myself and Marianne at the altar. The despachos were as they’d been placed on the table and appeared to be untouched. One exception: The bottle of beer on the altar was now uncapped.

Before she left, the Santa Tierra⎯Mamita⎯advised that if we wanted to be in contact with her, we could burn a white candle. We wouldn’t see her, but she would be there.

I have mine.

To read Part I of this accounting, in which the foundation is laid, go here.


*From someone who had undergone a surgery by the Apus, it is a physical matter that involved some pain. When over, a thin red line remained on the person’s body for some time at the site of the surgery. There was no blood or stitches. The explanation given was the wound closed up immediately. The result was relief. This from someone who is credible and would have no investment in relaying something other than the actual experience.

† Santa Tierra Madre Ascunto de Calca was the director of this session. She is also known as the Virgin Maria de Lares Calca. Calca is a village in the Sacred Valley near Cusco. Apu, being Quechua, also translates to El Señor. Apu Ausangate is considered the supreme witness, one who has powers of increase and healing. Apu Soqllacassa has nursing capabilities. Apu Sacsayhuaman Cabildo is a keeper of knowledge and wisdom.

 

Categories: Andean Cosmology, Indigenous Wisdom, Q'ero, Spiritual Travel | Tags: , , , | 10 Comments

When the Invisible Manifests, Part I: A First-Hand Account of Talking with Andean Mountain Spirits

Part I: In which the foundation is laid.

An open secret exists just beneath the bustle of everyday life in Cusco. It’s actually a phenomenon that occurs in pockets across the Andes. It’s unknown to outsiders, even expats who have lived there for decades…unless they accidentally stumble upon it and are invited. That’s exactly how it happened in this case. I’m no longer amazed how one thing leads to another because I’ve been shown over and over that I’m led to what I’m supposed to experience and who I’m destined to meet that supports this work.

It all started two years ago when I needed to find an appropriate place near Cusco to hold a ceremonial space for the teachings of Don Alberto Manqueriapa, a respected jungle paq’o.* I queried my long-time friend Christo who told me of a hidden compound, a site with small temples and a garden honoring all sacred traditions, its stewardship held by a spiritual man of great humility and sweetness.† As I was then at home in the US, I asked another friend, Marianne, if she would make the connection and see if we could make arrangements for a time during last year’s spiritual travel program.

At the high stone wall, an oversized wooden door opened into a place not unlike something you might see in a movie. The informal garden held small altars and religious statues from world traditions placed here and there. A huge domed adobe oven sat across from a cloistered seating area. Several chickens, a fancy breed with feathered topknots and naked necks, scratched the dirt in-between. I’ve since noticed the collective intake of breath for those who haven’t entered here before. Indeed, it was of some other world, not Peru. Yet it contained all that, too. It was inclusive.

A few steps beyond were the temples, one round and the other a small antechamber. Then the kitchen building and living quarters. Flowers, shrubs and trees took up every bit of remaining ground. It sounds as though all should be strewn over an acre or two. But part of its beauty and the stillness it lent had to do with how all fit in a surprisingly small space, the sacred and daily life coexisting, one within the other. As it should be.

At our first visit, the steward told us how he came to be there after intense dissatisfaction with a material life, traveling to far reaches in search of his soul, finally finding himself in Peru where this special place was unexpectedly given to his care. He was soft-spoken, unassuming. He did not pronounce but simply told his story as though still amazed it had all happened to him. When he talked briefly of the angels and how they spoke directly, it caught my attention but not long at that point. We experienced Don Alberto’s teachings there, and I’m quite sure whatever was resident helped us receive them.

Little did I know how all this would evolve over the coming year, for my friend Marianne took to heart the steward’s mention of the angels⎯what the local people also referred to as talking to the Apus, with an altomisayoq as intermediary.‡ She said to me, how did she not know about this when she’d been living in Cusco for thirty years? But then she’s Dutch by birth, not Cusquenan. Over the year between then and now she attended a number of these sessions, introduced to them through the steward.

Moray-Apus

Apus of the Sacred Valley. Photo: Carla Woody.

It’s said that during the times of the Inca, people’s sensibilities were developed to the extent they could communicate with the Apus in daylight. As those capabilities waned, such visible encounters would have somehow overcome them. Now it’s all confined to complete darkness with the necessary presence of an altomisayoq. But only to call in the coordinates for these beings to materialize in the place where the people are gathered to receive them and request counsel. The altomisayoq is not a medium. Those Apus, Santa Tierras and Mamitas of sacred places or villages who manifest during a session are completely separate entities from each other and the altomisayoq. They speak directly in their own voice to the petitioner, not through the altomisayoq as channel.

It’s hard to know how common this practice is today in remote Andean villages. With sadness, I heard that it is no longer so in Q’eros as no altomisayoqs remain in the villages, having passed long ago or moved to Cusco or elsewhere. But there was a time when the Apus did still appear there to give counsel when called upon. Q’ero Santos Machacca told me of the time when they were consulted about his grandfather’s health. Don Manuel Quispe, who passed in 2004 at 99 years old and well-known to many westerners, was the intermediary and provided his rustic home. There were offerings of chicha⎯a fermented drink⎯and coca. The Apus somehow entered through the thatched roof with a great flapping of wings, announcing their arrival by first landing on the back of Don Manuel, bending him double before taking their place on the mesa with much stomping and noise-making. In most ways, the process has not changed.

I was soon to find out…and truly believe the ambience of the hidden space, and sacred way the steward held it, set the stage for what was to happen…

Read Part II in which the Apus appeared here.


*Paq’o is a Quechua word with no direct translation, the closest being a cross between shaman and mystic in the Andean tradition.

†This steward prefers to operate beneath the radar, as do most altomisayoqs working strictly within their communities, knowing that those with pure spiritual intent will find their way to what is offered. Any mention of their name in writing on the internet is strictly forbidden in their lineage. To maintain respect, the exact site location and name of the holy men who provided our direct encounter will go unmentioned.

Apu is a Quechua word that translates to mountain. But the meaning goes deeper. The Apus are the living entities of the Andes, no less than Pachamama (Mother Earth), Mama Quilla (Mother Moon), Inti (Father Sun), Mama Cocha (Mother Ocean) and other elementals comprising the world. As mentioned, angels are also referred to depending on the influence of Catholicism, so prevalent in Peru, or other world traditions where the reference is generally accepted. An altomisayoq is the name given to the highest level of Andean priest, one who communicates with other dimensions. They are said to have been initiated directly by the Apus and thus able to call upon them for the benefit of the people. While increasingly rare in these times due to the great sacrifices required of them, there are a number who live in or near Cusco.

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

Cajun Healers of South Louisiana

Doc Moses Cajun Traiteur 1974 48x36

Doc Moses, Cajun Traiteur, 1974 by George Rodrigue, oil on canvas.

In 2012 I was invited to South Louisiana by Shala Fontenot and Faith Moody, who had been on one of my Peru journeys. I still carry gratitude for their generosity. It was the start of a love affair. I quite fell in love with the people and rich culture of those lands. While there I interviewed Becca Begnaud during her monthly Healing Arts Collective gathering. Becca is a Cajun traiteur, a tradition indigenous to the area that I didn’t know existed. Not only is she well versed in her healing art, Becca is a wealth of information on Cajun and Creole history and lifeways.

Traiteurs are faith healers, a heritage in danger of sliding into extinction. These days they have few, if any, apprentices willing to undertake a trade that involves a lot of personal sacrifice. Most are way up there in years. Traiteurs are known to selflessly give of themselves – many on call around the clock – caring for those in need. If they’re paid for services at all, it’s customarily a chicken or other practical item. They heal through what they call “the gift.” A prayer comes through them for the person it’s meant, often by laying on of hands. But there’s no requirement for the person to be present. Long distance healing is often done as well.

Below you’ll find the original interview I did with Becca during which she talks about her own process of taking on the mantle, and the origins of those who live in the area.

A few days ago, Becca sent me a note about coverage on traiteurs in a local publication. You can read it here. Her message gave me the final nudge to write this additional article, which I’ve been meaning to do for a long time.

Just prior to my return to Cajun Country in 2013, my friend Shala called and said a few cryptic words, “There are some folks I want you to meet.” Nothing more. After arriving, I discovered she’d set up sessions with three traiteurs. Her method: She put out a general announcement to friends and acquaintances, a request for names. When she received the same recommendation three times, she arranged a meeting. Luckily, I had my recorder with me, and they freely answered my questions. I asked each one about the same things: any criteria for being a traiteur, how they received the gift, and what effect it had on them personally. They filled in the gaps.

We pulled up to an unassuming house in the small town of Opelousas, the home of Sostain and Dorothy Lemelle. Mrs. Lemelle greeted us at the door and brought us right into the kitchen where Mr. Lemelle sat at the table. She returned to watching a TV show in the seating area just beyond, but piped in periodically as we talked with Mr. Lemelle.

He was 83 years old at the time, having begun his healing work suddenly at the age of 10 when a veterinarian was unable to staunch blood flow from a horse’s deep wound. His mother told him to point his finger at the horse and send the prayer. He did, and the bleeding stopped. He’d been doing his work ever since. Mr. Lemelle said his mother told him his daddy died six months before he was born, and that’s why he had the gift. No other reason and nothing else specifically done to learn his craft. But he was known many places in the world, regularly receiving calls from far-flung places.

SoustainLemelle-2

From left to right: Shala Fontenot, Sostain Lemelle, Becca Begnaud and Carla Woody.

I experienced his work myself. We sat knee to knee in that kitchen, TV going in the background, as he passed his hands over me and said prayers. I felt an enormous amount of energy, a force moving though my body, flushing out anything that could be out of sorts. Later, I asked him what he felt himself. He smiled and said, “Nothing.” I queried him, was he sure he didn’t experience any sensations, any energy? He smiled even more broadly and insisted, it wasn’t for him, only for the one who sat in front of him. So he didn’t feel anything. About that time there was a knock on the door, someone else showed up for healing. We placed the chicken we’d brought on the kitchen table, thanked him profusely and left.

Mr. Lemelle, a sweet humble man, passed this life in August 2014. He was kindly remembered in the world and left a gap hard to fill. Our unedited interview is below. A bit garbled in the beginning, it’s well worth the listen (27 minutes) and gets clear the more this elder launched into recounting his life.

I’m going to call her Mrs. Benoit, then a 78-year-old traiteur who preferred to remain nameless and didn’t want the actual recording on the Internet. I’m sharing some of her story.

I come from family of 10 and have 10 children of my own. My mother was a traiteur who would treat just two things—the blood and the burns. That was back in the day of the horse and buggy. They would turn into their drive calling out ‘Madame, Madame.’ And my mother would look out the window. If she saw red, then she’d know it was a bad cut. Walking to meet them, she would already be working on the wound. I’d run beside her. I found it fascinating! When my mother got to the buggy they would be squeezing a bandage that was dripping blood. But when they unwrapped it, the wound had closed!

I said, Mama! How did you do that?

She said, it was just prayer. It’s a treatment that was handed down to me from the elders.

Mama, can you teach me?

I’m sorry. I can’t. I can only teach someone of the opposite sex.

So I had to learn from a man or a boy older than me. A woman couldn’t teach me. But they wouldn’t teach me then because I was too young, they’d say. But finally someone taught me at 7 years old. I first learned for the blood. I saw a dog get hit by a car and it was bleeding. I treated him and it stopped immediately. Thank you, Jesus!

I learned one at a time from those who would teach me.

Then my sister-in-law was somewhere and saw this old man. She asked him if something was wrong. He said he was sad because he’d traveled the world and learned all these treatments. But he didn’t have anyone to pass them to.

No one ever asked me, he said. I’d love to meet a woman younger than me who speaks both French and English that I could pass my treatments to her.

She said, Oh my God. This is my sister-in-law’s answered prayer! She’s been praying for years to meet an angel that would tell her treatments from the old days. And she’s never forgotten a treatment she learned.

Thank you, Lord, I said. I called him until he got home. I went and spent 3 days with him. He even taught me the treatment for cancer. When someone needs to come, God sends them.

A woman came to my door. I could hear her coughing before she got there. I said to her, that’s a heart cough. Not a lung cough. She’d just spent 5 days in the hospital, but she was no good. I told her I learned a treatment from an old lady who lived with the Indians. She taught classes, and I went to all of them. I told her, there’s a treatment for that cough you’ve got with some tea. It was blue malva tea. I treat 3 days in a row, pretty much at the same time of day. If they can’t come here I treat them here [long distance]. In 3 days this woman was not coughing. I treated her [with prayer] and she drank that tea.

This lady called me one day when I was doing reflexology. She said [crying], I was making some roux and the pot fell on my shoulder. It burned so bad! There’s nobody around! I’m by myself! Can you treat me?  

This lady I was working on [with reflexology] was a very religious lady. I said, we’re going to treat you. We’re going to pray for you. Me and my friend are going to hold hands. And I’m going to pretend to hold your hand. Did you remove that roux on your shoulder?

Yes, but it burns so! It burns through my body!

I asked the lady to pray with me for the burn. We did it 3 times. She had stopped crying. We did it 3 more times. She came and showed me the next day. It didn’t even blister. I’m overwhelmed when I see something like that! She said when we stopped praying it was no longer there! So it works.

Rebecca Henry is known as a Creole folklorist who runs the Creole Heritage Folklife Center in Opelousas. Located in an old home, it contains items from the early parts of the last century that document African American life of the times. But Mrs. Henry is also a traiteur, and certainly a clairvoyant. Unsolicited, she told me things about myself that she had no way of knowing. I regret not writing them down. While she gave permission for me to record our conversation, and openly spoke of hidden things the others hadn’t, I could see she wasn’t sure about my motives. And even though the recorder batteries had plenty of juice, the record light was on…and even tested prior to beginning our discussion in earnest…when I went to listen to it later, nothing was there. Blank. I tell you this was one powerful woman that I look forward to visiting again.

I have a very strong pull to spend more time in that region. The folks there were liberal with their storytelling. Still, I have the distinct sense that the stories proffered were an invitation to go deeper. I’ve been in such places before. I recognize the waters running there.

 

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Categories: cultural interests, Gratitude, Healing, Spiritual Travel | Tags: , , , , , , | 2 Comments

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