What Warms the Heart

Taller Leñateros: A Tzotzil Maya Blessing

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Magic for a Long Life*

Manwela Kokoroch

Elder Brother of writing:

Elder Brother of painting:

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

 

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

My wayhel is suffering in the mountains.**

My animal soul has fallen off the hill.

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

 

Lend me your ten toes, your ten fingers.

To guide my wayhel back into her tiger cave.

Back in the green cave where my Spirit lives.

 

Lift her up with a cloth that smells of roses.

With a rose, lift me up.

Lay me down in the shade of the vine.

 

Elder Brother who feeds the Souls:

Guardian of the Corral:

Bearer of time:

Spin around in a circle,

Turn around in a square.

 

Don’t let the tiger out,

The jaguar out,

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

 

Herd them together,

Don’t let them go.

I’ve brought you turkey eggs.

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

Of She Who Sees From Far Away Through Dreams.

 

Thirteen essences of tilil

Make my day longer with the sweat of your legs,

Your hands that glow green as precious jade,

Your green, green blood.

 

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

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

 

Keep my animal alive for many years

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

On the whole Surface of the Earth.

 

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

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

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

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

Hatun Q’ero Weavers: Destination Santa Fe

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Peek at the processional. Photo: Carla Woody.

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

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

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Remigia weaving at the booth. Photo: Carla Woody.

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Q’ero weavings. Photo: Carla Woody.

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

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

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

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

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

Now we look to next year…

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

***

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

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

 

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

Terroir: Honoring What Is Precious of the Earth

We were on secondary roads headed down to Nice when I saw the sign…small and low to the ground, easily overlooked, as they sometimes are in France — as if they don’t want to be too open about their treasures. It said Châteauneuf-du-Pape with an arrow indicating left. A little burst of joy, a bubbling of excitement when I saw the name of my favorite wine. Back then I didn’t know much about wine, still not so much. I just knew what I liked, and also had no idea there was a village by the same name. We veered off immediately.

A few kilometers from our destination, we saw another unobtrusive sign. It merely said Vin. We slowed down. Peering down the long dirt driveway, we didn’t see anything that looked like an operation. We did see a house and what looked like a large barn with cultivated fields beyond that. Well, why not?

When we got close, an elderly man, unmistakably French, emerged from the house and walked over to the car. He invited us to the barn, full of his own brand. What I remember most was his offer to taste a 1969 Châteauneuf-du-Pape, what a good year it was. There was no doubt. It was something quite special. We treated ourselves to a couple of bottles of the 1969 and filled the rest of the box with those from 1976. From there, we continued on to the village and had a thoroughly pleasant 3-hour lunch.

Then there was the time driving in circles in the Rheinpfalz of Germany. We had directions written out by a friend that looked more like an indistinct treasure map, siting landmarks but no village or street names. We finally pulled up to a house, in a row with other houses and grape vines growing up the hill. There must have been some distinguishing mark about that one causing us to stop there, but no sign. My memory is foggy now. I just remember our determination to find this place since it was described so effusively by the friend who gave us the map, and our hesitation wondering if we were in the right place. But just as the friend said, a robust German woman opened the front door at our knock and heartily waved us in. She led us down to the basement, a relatively small room with large wine casks stacked two high. Elsewhere was a small table for tasting with chairs, a worktable with a labeling machine and bottles in various stages of readiness for filling and corking.  She explained their process for winemaking and turned on the spigot of those casks whose contents were ready for consuming, and filled our glasses. We spent a lovely hour or so with her. She was quite entertaining…and the wine sublime.

These remembrances are from the 1980s when already these small wineries — vignerons who not only grow their own grapes in the natural way, doing the vigorous work required by hand, with distinct knowledge of their land, and also practicing the alchemy to produce fine wines — were falling by the wayside.  Corporations were taking over, as with everything else, where no one is connected to the process all the way through and may not have such an investment.

There is a French term increasingly used with some food and especially in wine circles: terroir coming from terre, meaning earth or land. Terroir has to do with the microclimate of a specific region — potentially merely a parcel of land — along with the soil type — down to the microorganisms — interacting with the surrounding landscape, farming and processing methods that produce the final result…and character. An individual personality.

Such wineries do still exist, those with vignerons who embrace the philosophy and practices of terroir. But not all can claim to be natural wineries, the grapes grown organically, not even a spritz of pesticide defiling the plants, all done in the old way by hand.

During my 2018 program in Provence we were to experience a marked contrast. We first stopped by one of the large commercial wineries for a tasting. The wine was good, and most of us bought a bottle or so for later. But none of us made a connection to the place or the tasting room host who did little to engage us. The performance was perfunctory. We were in and out. I have little memory of it except what I’ve relayed. Our next visit was another matter.

We followed a road just outside the tiny village of Sannes in the Luberon to find Les Tuiles Bleues. There is quite the romantic story attached to the name, The Blue Tiles, that I promise to tell you a little later. Les Tuiles Bleues is a natural winery sharing the 30 acres with the house, barn, other buildings and large wooded area. There are 6 acres where table grapes are grown and another 6 for the wine grapes. It’s important to note the woods were left as is, not just to look nice, but to provide oxygenation to the area.

Céline Laforest greeted us in a friendly manner and invited us on a tour. This is a family business. But right away there’s a strong sense that it’s always been a labor of love about preserving a way of life. First, we noticed the house, so typically Provençal and the unusual name. And now the story where the romance comes in…

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Photo: CarlaWoody.

In the 1970s, Raymond Laforest, Céline’s father, decided he’d had it with the corporate life. His dream was to have a place where he could grow grapes organically, make wine and leave a legacy for his offspring.  Raymond  and his wife Chantal made the leap, and Les Tuiles Bleues was founded in 1979. As is often the case, things were tough getting it all off the ground.  It can be hard in those circumstances to keep your spirits up. But when things were the most challenging Raymond would break into an upbeat, happy song, Tu Verras by Claude Nougaro, reassuring Chantal…

Ah, you’ll see, you’ll see,

Everything will start again, you’ll see, you’ll see,

Love, that’s what it’s made for…

You’ll have her, your house with blue tiles…

And I will fall asleep…

The task done, laying against you…

Complete lyrics in English here.

The tricky times didn’t end back then. From year to year, there’s the risk of too much rain, not enough…all the considerations of farming, especially for those who do so naturally. But in very good years all aligns to produce stellar wines. Céline suggested we take a look at the vines. The dogs, Grenache and Lune, led the way. She lamented that they had a bad year for the vines but still managed to produce some good wine.

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Photo: Carla Woody.

We continued our tour of the winemaking areas and then on to taste the results from the grapes: Grenache, Syrah, Sauvignon and Ugni Blanc. I loved having the resident cats —Banane, Bambou and Rouflette — adding to the ambience of the rustic tasting room. Of course, Grenache and Lune followed us in as well, everyone harmonious.

Well, the wine! How do I describe it? Delectable. I experienced something quite unusual. At least, I’ve never had wine generate this effect before. I took a sip of the Syrah and my palate came alive. In the next moment…my Third Eye popped open. It was truly a visceral response, and I pronounced it aloud.

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Photo: Jo Elliott.

I asked some of the travelers for their input, and comparison between the two wineries if they wished.

Patricia Potts: Les Tuiles Bleues felt more natural and intimate. I loved the way the animals lived in harmony. It was a reflection of the real world. Not perfectly groomed like the other winery but perfectly imperfect. I felt the indwelling spirit there. 

Share Gilbert: The winery belonged to her father… to pass his love of the earth and passion of making wine to his daughter…[It] was reflected in the wine. The flavors were pure, unadulterated and delicious.  The farm felt comfortable and welcoming. 

Jo Elliott: Les Tuiles Bleues had a feeling of family, animals and easiness, as opposed to the far more structured and orderly feeling of the other vineyard with its formal medieval gardens. It was this feeling of being a family business and the fact that the wines were totally natural and organic that I liked.

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Photo: Patricia Potts.

Our final delight was the detour we took on our way to the van. Over in the barnyard we met the geese and watched Céline feed grapes to Sidonie, Adélaïde and Amélie. They talked a lot.

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Photo: Patricia Potts.

We all bought wine but none of it made its way into our suitcases home.  For my part, I wish they were right around the corner. But it gives me a good excuse to return…as I will in May 2020 sponsoring another spiritual travel journey in Southern France.

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Photo: Jo Elliott.

Les Tuiles Bleues is a treasure. Such vignerons magnifiques are increasingly harder to find. It’s all the sweat and love that only those living within the spirit of the land, giving great care and attention, who can produce the kind of alchemy responsible for popping open my Third Eye. I’m convinced of that and its personality.

Categories: Honoring the Earth, Sacred Reciprocity, What Warms the Heart | Tags: , , , , | Leave a comment

When Magic Comes Unbidden

We were at the end of the March spiritual travel program on Hopi — always entrancing. On another level, I’d been handling some complex situations over the last couple of months and, in the background, was running on empty. My program partner Charlene Joseph was in the same state. Living as a traditional Hopi lends incredible meaning to a life, but it’s not a breeze. The Hopi Way contains many ongoing responsibilities, especially for women. Char abides by all of them. I’ve frequently told her I don’t know how she does it. But she’s dedicated, working always for family, community and the greater good.

The ability to detach from some things, or at least push them into the background, in favor of fully engaging in the present moment is a human attribute…and a skill. This strategy will be particularly familiar to women. The problem is…we can’t do it ongoing without paying a price.

Char and I left the group for an hour in Harold Joseph’s capable hands where he would share further storytelling before our closing circle. I needed to go talk with a Hopi candidate about sponsorship on the October Peru journey and drove to his studio. While engaged with him, there was a knock on the door. I was surprised to see a slightly built Japanese man. Earlier in the day, we’d been with Hopi artisans listening to them present their work when the same thing had occurred. The same Japanese man had knocked, zipped in, said a few words to one of the artisans and disappeared.

This time as the door opened, he greeted our host, saw us and apologized for interrupting our discussion. We were basically finished. Char and I said so and made to get up from our chairs. It appeared as though there was business to be transacted. But he looked at us and said in heavily accented English, “Can you wait? Just a few minutes?” There seemed to be some urgency in the way he asked.

Char and I looked at each other, having no idea what he intended, and agreed. A nod of the head and he zipped out the door. Glancing out the window we could see him rummaging around in his car.

Soon he reappeared holding a shoebox. Char and I exchanged glances. He went over to a counter and began carefully unpacking what turned out to be the implements of a traveling tea ceremony. Now we had two hosts — one Hopi and the other Japanese. Our Hopi host pulled over a small table and went to heat water. Our Japanese host carried over the most delicate small cups, a bamboo whisk and finely powdered green tea then waited, never raising his eyes. He said, “I only have two cups. I am sorry.” When Char and I started to say, it’s okay indicating they should serve themselves, he said, “This is for you.”

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Our Japanese host proceeded to pour heated water into the cups and whisked the tea with concentration until foam formed in each cup. The exquisite attention he gave to this process and the fine way he lifted the cups, gently setting them down in front of us, touched me at a level where I have no words. Having completed his task, he sat back, still never raising his eyes to ours.

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Tentatively, we took a sip of tea. Char and I paused. I think we were both surprised. I’d only ever had green tea that was too earthy and bitter for my taste. Clearly, I’d never had fine ceremonial Matcha before. We sipped and ate the tiny chewy cookies offered as accompaniment. Both of us remarked how delicious it was and thanked him immensely. All too soon we’d consumed the treat. Throughout, our Japanese host said almost nothing but had an unspoken fashion — offered with great humility — of honoring us and this precious moment in time. I felt completely renewed like I’d consumed some ethereal elixir.

There’s a word the English use that’s uncommon in the US. Gobsmacked…meaning overcome with wonder, utterly astounded. This was the only word I could think of later that precisely described my state.

While our Hopi host plainly knew this Japanese man. Char and I had never laid eyes on him save the fleeting moment earlier in the day. But he could not have distinguished us then, his eyes never even scanned the group.

It seemed like one of those mysteries of the Universe…how he dropped in at precisely the time he did…when it was just us…having finished our discussion. Why he spontaneously decided to surprise us — perfect strangers — with such an enduring ceremony in an unlikely setting is another.

I do know the effect it had on me though. So do others. Char and I returned to the group where I told the story. I’m quite sure I was still in that state of “gobsmacked-ness.” I continued to tell the story…to family…friends…and now to you. Maybe at least a little of what I felt has been passed on.

We all could use that kind of pure wonder where we’re touched to the core…shaken awake in a sense…that we’re being acknowledged in a deeply respectful, unassuming manner for no apparent reason…not because we’ve done something that deserved reward necessarily. But because Magic has come unbidden. A gift from the Universe delivered in an unconventional, unforeseen method when we most need it.

When I returned home, I did my research and guessed at which ceremonial Matcha would best duplicate what I’d tasted. I ordered it along with the appropriate implements. After the package arrived, I remembered that many years ago someone had given me a Japanese tea service. I found where I’d squirreled it away, never used, and washed one cup.

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Now when I perform my own private ceremony and sit…pausing in my day…savoring the taste, not just of the tea but the sense of wonder that returns, I remember that most unanticipated time on Hopi when my good friend Char and I were acknowledged with beautiful intent. I’m so glad we said yes.

Masayoshi Watanabe, ありがとうございま. Thank you. You honored us with your gift.

Categories: Gratitude, What Warms the Heart | Tags: , , , , | 2 Comments

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