Posts Tagged With: spiritual travel destinations

Film Review – The Red Queen: A Mayan Mystery

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Red Queen 1

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

Red Queen-2

Part Two: View it here. 24 minutes.


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


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

Documentary Review – Peru: A League of Their Own

This inspiring documentary short by Rodrigo Vazquez is a true look at Quechua gender roles and the devastating effect of natural disasters in Peru. It tells the story of a young woman named Juana in the village of Churubamba, located in the Cusco region, who took an unprecedented step outside roles traditional for a Quechua woman. She organized a women’s soccer team, which served as a model that spread across a number of the communities. The teams weren’t only about soccer but also served as a forum for the women to talk about their problems and band together to work for the benefit of all their families.

In the village of Kalla Rayan, a young woman named Felicitas gained entry into meetings reserved for men where she was voted as representative, along with the community president, for a special mission. The two were to find their way to Lima and, with no introduction, seek an audience with the next president to seek aid for the devastation wrought on their village by the floods.

It shows what can happen when any of us take a step off the beaten path. In this film, the starting point was one woman who wanted to play soccer, something taken up by some of the women in other communities and became huge; introduced more equality and potentially has saved one village. It reminds us to follow our dreams and trust the path where it leads – even if we can’t see beyond the next footfall.

Mollamarka Women Singers

Mollamarka women singers inside Salk’awasi, the ancestral home of Don Americo Yabar.
Photo courtesy of Mark Jericevic.

On another note, the landscape and villages in the film looked so familiar to me that I did a double-take as I watched. I must have traveled through some of the very same areas on my way to Mollamarka for so many years during our Heart of the Andes program.

Film length is 25 minutes. View for free via Karma Tube: Peru: A League of Their Own .

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

Unexpected Music

Place des Vosges

Place des Vosges

We were exploring Le Marais district when I remembered one of my favorite places. Ah yes, just a short distance away. I succeeded in persuading my friends they really must experience the oldest square in Paris. We turned down a side street that opened into Place des Vosges. Its elegant French classical façade spoke to the aristocracy that once lived above the arcades below. It didn’t take much to imagine Victor Hugo striding along anxious to be home to continue penning his novel of the moment. We noticed a bistro just in time for lunch. Salad, cheese, bread and wine somehow tasting so much better than it ever did at home.

Exiting, we started to round the corner that would take us out of the square when we noticed activity across the way under the arches. Some ten or so people setting up—a musical ensemble! We edged closer to watch. A few others began to gather. The discordant sounds of musicians tuning their violins and cellos ensued. And ensued. And ensued. Until finally my friends were getting impatient, wanting to leave. Oh no! Just a few more minutes, I was saying in my head. Feeling the tug of the group, I started to turn away with them.

And in that moment, the cacophony stopped. A split second of silence brought chaos into perfect order as the haunting strains of Pachelbel’s Canon filled the air. The acoustics amplified the notes to such a degree that we were enveloped, rooted in place. The beauty of the moment was overwhelming. I didn’t want to move from that spot. The energy continued to rise as they went on to play Mozart, Bach and Vivaldi. Thankfully, a violinist broke away and began offering CDs. I gladly purchased one and then discovered their name: Classique Metropolitain. What an unexpected gift, an extraordinary dessert, one we wouldn’t have had if we’d not been willing to pause.

Now when I play their recording, especially when I paint, it takes me right back to that split second of perfect order when my spirits soared—to experience it all again, gaining inspiration. Only much later did I discover that Classique Metropolitain regularly frequented metro stations and Place des Vosges playing to passersby, perhaps to lend pleasure to their day.


On a nearly annual basis, I sponsor a spiritual travel program called Entering the Maya Mysteries in the Chiapas region of Mexico.  I usually go in January and we spend several days in the highlands participating in ritual and religious festivities for San Sebastián. One particular year music was a thread that ran through our time together—sacred and celebratory, vocal and instrumental—something to be expected considering our itinerary. But it was unexpected music, taking the edge off a situation and lifting our spirits or instilling a hush to any tumbling thoughts, that I most savored and have tucked away in that same place where Classique Metropolitain and Place des Vosges reside.

Lalo Ed Adams lives in New Jersey. Some years ago his search for someone going to Piedras Negras brought him to me. He joined our travels, in the process discovering a new name that he wore proudly. On his second trip with me, Lalo came along again wearing the glow I saw develop on the first one. Early on, he brought out a guitar saying he’d learned to play a couple of years ago and now gathered weekly with guitarists back home. During our days staying at El Panchan outside the Palenque ruins, he inched his way from casually playing at our table at Don Mucho’s Restaurant—until fully on stage with microphone and sound system going! I admired his chutzpah and his playing.

One thing about Lalo was that he understood how music can intervene and shift the energy in a moment. We’d been on our way to the Lacandón Jungle village of Najá anticipating the upcoming ceremony with Don Antonio Martinez when the van began to hesitate and sputter. Our driver was worried. “Bad gas,” he said, finally pulling over. We all bailed out; it appeared there would be a long wait while the situation was remedied. It was hot. We were in the middle of nowhere milling around on the side of the road.

Lalo Ed Adams

Lalo Ed Adams (2nd from right).
Photo credit: Bob Moore

It didn’t take long before Lalo pulled out his guitar. I finally couldn’t resist. I joined in with what he later called my “vocal chops”—that hadn’t been let loose in years. Some of the others chimed in until we had a plein air concert of sorts going. It turned a difficult situation to a light one full of fun. We continued to find moments to sing, all the way up to our closing dinner when we essentially took over a restaurant, and the other patrons joined our musical frivolity that ranged from “I Shall Be Released” to “Nowhere Man.”

But backtracking a bit, the latter half of our journey we stayed in San Cristóbal de las Casas in the Chiapas highlands. While we were visiting Na Bolom I heard faint notes of piano music and wandered into a room. Beautiful, I thought. Taking note of the pianist but not wanting to disturb, I examined the religious icons in the room. At leaving, I saw a poster announcing Richard Pierce Milner as the current artist-in-residence with evening concerts being held regularly. In the next day when we were in the Maya village of Zinacantán witnessing the raucous festivities for San Sebastián, I noticed the pianist there with a friend. This time I made sure we met and, on a whim, invited him to come with us. We were on our way to Don Xun Calixto’s home above San Juan Chamula where a special ritual awaited us. In return, I joked to Richard, I must have a concert.

Indeed. A few nights later, after the group had flown home, I went back to Na Bolom. At one time, before it had been the home of Frans and Trudy Blom, or a museum, the old hacienda had housed a seminary. One long room still bore reminders of that time, an altar at one end, religious paintings on nearly every inch of wall. But a grand piano at the other end dominated the space.  The only light source was candlelight. I took a seat. Richard began to play. And I was transported.

Richard Pierce Milner

Richard Pierce Milner at Na Bolom.
Photo credit: Carla Woody

Truly, Richard’s compositions are hard to categorize, a blend of neo-classical and crossover jazz as descriptor not at all doing them justice. What do you say about pieces that snatch you up to share a deeply personal journey with the artist? That wend their way through memories of a moment by the sea, a difficult healing process, or tribute to a mentor now passed? That touch on something not often touched? I can only say that Richard exposes his innermost feelings through his music and extends an invitation for listeners to join him. As I write these words, piano solos from his CD entitled Other Ways of Knowing are taking me back to that candlelit time at Na Bolom when I first heard him play.

 In these times when so much of life is artificially structured, perhaps even constricted, that we can no longer breathe, do moments other than that—should we allow them—create openings. Chance encounters, courage mustered, intuition followed, and willingness to engage possibilities provide a distinct loosening that allows us to take flight. For me, unexpected music, especially when I find it within myself, has been a theme that has provided a springboard.
   To see what other bloggers have posted in response to the Daily Post Writing Challenge: Moved by Music go here.
Categories: Creativity Strategies, Music Review, Travel Experiences | Tags: , , , , | 5 Comments

Spiritual Travel: Destination or Process?

Some years ago I had an inquiry from someone who was interested in the Entering the Maya Mysteries program I was sponsoring; specifically he was enticed by a destination on the itinerary. He’d done a search and I was the only one offering the opportunity. “But,” he said. “I’m not so sure about this ‘spiritual travel’ stuff.”

Curing ritual image

Curing ritual in San Juan Chamula.
Photo: Carla Woody

How to explain something so intangible? In one respect, it contains elements of tangibility: sites and interactions. Invisible to the naked eye, perhaps unanticipated by the mind, are myriad ways to be drawn into the deeper journey that define these potentially uncharted waters—without conscious realization in the moment that you’ve taken the plunge. Hence, enter aspects that: may have no words or audible sound, cannot be held in your hands, your eye can’t get a bead on, can seem ordinary but aren’t. Yet it produces something akin to a lightning strike that splits the rough outer covering and creates an opening, a probable pathway — and a tangible result. There appears a fork in the road inviting decision. It’s not the territory for a faint-hearted tourist but the traveler of a different sort.

I personally welcome those unending layers and outcomes, only bits and pieces of the larger picture solidifying long after closure of the initiation. I’ve had the great fortune, maybe even destiny, to create such organic spaces, through many years’ relationship-building and travel with special intent: being alert to those people and places who offer themselves as powerful conduits. These elements being necessary to push the energy—our energy—to catapult us beyond places that have grown familiar.

My brand of spiritual travel is physically comprised of sacred sites, ceremonies and those who keep the rituals and stories. The travelers who show up to participate equally act as catalysts. An entrainment occurs and each one gains what they need to further the collective and their own journey. And we find out what it’s like to be at play in a field of mirrors: coming face-to-face with aspects that call out for healing and simultaneously create beauty. I personally celebrate it all.

God pot lighting

Lighting the god pots during a
balché ceremony in Najá.
Photo: Carla Woody

The question arises: do you have to travel to experience such initiation? In some form, you do. We are creatures of habit who tend to cling to a mindset that is familiar, even if not particularly healthy. You must be willing to move outside the container: to be fearless, to be open, to explore. You must embody courage to create a wider life. That’s travel.

The fast track requires putting the daily life on pause and dropping yourself into an unfamiliar environment to rediscover what you forgot. When people gather with this common intent, magic happens. They give themselves permission to explore parts of themselves they’re not so in touch with. Add exposure to Native peoples who inherit a sense of the sacred as an integral aspect of life—and a landscape of possibility appears.

When that happens it leaves an indelible impression and shifts who you are in the world. I frequently face a challenge finding words to express the profound value of the intangible elements running through the lifework I’ve chosen. I currently live in a culture that values the immediate result while ignoring the process that’s all-important in creating something of deep meaning that endures. My sense is that if we’re able to finally find comfort floating in the abyss, it will produce all that’s ever needed–beyond what we could imagine. But it takes travel. I’ll leave you with this quote from A Million Miles in a Thousand Years by Donald Miller:

And once you live a good story, you get a taste for a kind of meaning in life; and you can’t go back to being normal; you can’t go back to the meaningless scenes stitched together by the forgettable thread of wasted time.

Author’s note: Those years ago I must have found the right words. I’m happy to report that the man concerned about the “spiritual travel” stuff has since traveled with me twice. And even more importantly, in the process, we’ve become friends.

For information on our upcoming “Entering the Maya Mysteries” programs, go here. For other spiritual travel destinations, go here. A portion of tuitions are donated to Kenosis Spirit Keepers for projects that help preserve Indigenous wisdom traditions.

To view other stories on the subject of “Journey” go to the Daily Prompt.

Categories: Energy Healing, Indigenous Wisdom, Lacandón Maya, Maya, Spiritual Evolution, Spiritual Travel | Tags: , , , , , | 5 Comments

Acts of Creation

A few years ago, I was in the Musée d’Orsay in Paris and copied these words from a plaque on the wall in one of the many rooms that contained art works from the mid-1800s through the early 1900s.

A young painter asked Gaugin for advice and he answered, ‘Do not paint too much from nature. Art is an abstraction; extract it from nature while dreaming in front of it and pay more attention to the act of creation than to the result.’ 


Cézanne's refuge on Ste. Victoire mountain.

Cézanne’s refuge on Ste. Victoire mountain.

Paul Gaugin’s words punctuated, for me, similar reminders coming over the course of travels in Provence with my group, which then culminated in Paris. As always, those things that stand out to us are what we’re there to encounter. This theme was mine to hear and one that is still prevalent in pockets of France, especially Provence.

Mont Ste. Victoire is a hulking giant of a mountain dominating the Provençal landscape. Post-Impressionist artist Paul Cézanne was fascinated with it. Painting it numerous times, he even had a refuge near the top, to the point we hiked and picnicked having our own luncheon on the grass painters Manet and Picasso might have found acceptable.*

Near Ste. Victoire’s base sits Mas de Cadenet, a winery that has been in the same family since 1813 producing exquisite examples of Côtes de Provence. We stopped by and Matthieu Négrel was waiting for us.

For such a young man, Matthieu was quite the inspiration. Only 25 at that time, he was set to take on a large role when his father retires. Indeed, he had already stepped into sharing many of the important decisions about cultivation of the vineyard and wine-making. We even had a discussion about what it was like to have such a family legacy and the expectations that may come with it, whether it was a harness or a sort of freedom. For Matthieu, it was obvious that he had found his passion early on—and it rested in the land, rhythms of nature, things tended with care, patience. He seemed to contain a distinct knowledge of his place in the world, rare for someone his age. With unabashed charm and a lot of gesturing typical of the region, he exuberantly related fact and philosophy about grapes and wine-making. We were not bored and much of what he relayed was done through metaphor. Matthieu and his family produce wine from vines that range from 35 to 50 years old.

Photo: Making Christmas Wine

Matthieu Négrel making Christmas wine in the old way.

Standing in the vineyard, with Ste. Victoire as the backdrop, he told us about his life. How it was to plant a vine and wait—to harvest only after 5 years. Pointing out a vine planted when his grandfather was a young man and then another planted when he himself was a child, he laughed and said, “Things are very s-l-o-o-o-w here in Provence.”

Then he went on, “In Provence they say, when the vine is young it produces much. But the quality is medium. When older it produces less but the quality is much better. Ahhhh…but when it is the oldest it’s very wise and it holds it all inside and it gives out very little!”

On another day we traveled through the beautiful countryside on winding roads, climbing in elevation and finally came to a Religious House with lavender fields surrounding it. Tucked away in the Alpes de Haute Provence region, discreetly out of sight, three sisters of the Soeurs Coopératrices Maison St Joseph live in an old farmhouse. They are known for cultivating lavandan, a prized type of lavender only grown at this particular altitude, producing the highest medicinal quality essential oil, in the old way, mostly by hand and not technology. Sister Marie Michelle, who greeted us, had a similar glow about her as the one Matthieu had, but many, many more years.

Sister Marie Michelle

Sister Marie Michelle

She showed us their fields and, even though it was late in the season, we could smell lavender faintly in the air. She talked about how they carefully harvested and let the blossoms lay in the sun a certain amount of time so that the oils they made would be at the best strength for all the ways they could be used. She bemoaned the fact that other lavender farmers used machinery that cut the stalks in such a way as to lessen the quality and then didn’t allow them to “strengthen” in the sun after harvest as needed. It was all done quickly, cut and dried—so to speak. And she was quite clear that what sold as lavender essential oils in the world market was lavandin, having much lesser properties, and not lavandan. I was curious how three elderly sisters managed all the fields and harvest until she told us that people from the local community helped. When the sisters are gone, will this art become lost?

Lavender farm photo.

Lavender farm at
Soeurs Coopératrices Maison St Joseph.

Creek Chincultik

Creek Chincultik
©2010 Carla Woody
First oil painting after a 12-year hiatus.

Honoring the Process

I’m going to come full circle and talk a little about painting. I’m an artist, using mostly oils as my medium. During my lifetime, I periodically took a hiatus from that art form for various reasons. The last rationale was because I moved cross country and no longer had a studio—or so I told myself. I took up black and white photography for several years, but found it not as tactilely satisfying. For a long time, my friend and spiritual mentor Don Américo Yábar had been urging me to paint again and said it would be quite different than what I’d done before. I thought he meant that my subject matter and style would be esoteric based on my experiences in the last number of years. In the fall of 2009, after a 12-year pause, I began to paint again. It just seemed right somehow, without Don Américo ever mentioning it at all when I had been in Peru that summer. And I discovered what he may have meant—however else my canvases may eventually develop. When I was much younger I painted fast and furious, always with a goal in mind, turning out a completed work typically in somewhere between 4-8 hours. Now I’m painting on the same canvas for weeks, sometimes longer. Quite content in the process, I’m allowing the colors to emerge and what expression is more deeply inside me. Perhaps I’m becoming like the older vine Matthieu talked about. Not quite the elder and I’m not yet holding it all inside. Too much to discover still!

But I think what I’ve learned over the years, that is coming out in my painting, and what was echoed through the people we engaged with in Provence, is this. There’s great value to immersion in the integrity of a process. Then the quality of the outcome is naturally delivered. I’ve been taught patience for things to come to fruition. Some things need to happen for others to evolve. When you know this at a visceral level, it brings that joie de vivre written so plainly on the faces of those who live through that understanding like Sister Marie Michelle and Matthieu. It also takes faith—and sometimes more than a little stamina.


*Édouard Manet turned the French art world upside down with his controversial painting Le Déjeuner sur l’herbe. Pablo Picasso later did his own versions of Luncheon on the Grass.

View information about our October 2013 “La Source de Provence” program here. Limited to 7 travelers.

Categories: Creativity Strategies, Spiritual Evolution, Spiritual Travel, Visual Arts | Tags: , , , , | 2 Comments

Book Review – The Drum Wars: A Modern Maya Story

The Drum Wars: A Modern Maya Story

By Carol Karasik

Drum Wars Cover ImageIn the 1990s, a friend and I were walking on the road to the Palenque ruins. We noticed a narrow dirt road that led into the rainforest. Curious, we followed it and came to an enclave containing ramshackle treehouses—one with a sign that said “Yoga”—and a camping area. We looked at each other and said, “What is this place?” We had stumbled upon El Panchan in its beginnings. Since then it’s grown considerably to a mishmash of cabanas, camping, a couple of competing open-air restaurants with live music, culminating with late-night fire dancers and drumming.

Now all these years later, as part of our annual “Entering Maya Mysteries” pilgrimage, lodging at the Panchan has become a tradition for its close proximity to the ruins—but maybe even more so for its out-of-time, otherworldly value all its own. A year ago, my group sat in Don Mucho’s Restaurant eating tasty cuisine, watching odd characters wander by, listening to live Salsa music, when one of the travelers turned to me and said, “This is like being in a movie!” He had a look of wonder on his face. Just this past January, another traveler looked around and pronounced, “Surreal!” That said even though the day was still quite young.

Carol Karasik has written a historical adventure, an enthralling ride, about a dysfunctional family dynasty, seekers of the unknown and unknowable, and the ancient land and people who issued a calling card to the crossroads called El Panchan. The Drums Wars is an entertaining story that is stranger-than-life, but true. With wry humor, Karasik recounts the origins and intrigues of the residents and transients of this jungle community, grown up near the Maya ruin of Palenque. The gritty, often tedious work, of archeologists, and those of similar eke, are chronicled aptly, adding a bit of mysticism, romance and education along the way.  I was particularly taken with the discovery of the Red Queen’s remains, later to be identified as Lady “Conjurer” who was Pakal the Great’s wife—and the important role played by women at Palenque, the place of transformation.

As I read this crazy backstory it occurred to me that by virtue of its proximity to Palenque that, of course, the Ancient Maya world had to inform it. The planets of the Panchan are in continual alignment, merely a mirror, to create a container. Those drawn there are acting out their fantastic journeys into the Underworld, catapult to the Upperworld, and manifest delivery into the bohemian Middleworld called El Panchan.

Howler Photo

Howler Monkey

Whether you’ve been a traveler in my Maya Mysteries programs, or want to enter this curiosity of human condition—taken to the extreme on your own—reading The Drum Wars may point to some explanation of your own journey…or, at the very least, you’ll find it a fascinating read. Available through Amazon.

Categories: Book Review, Maya, Spiritual Travel | Tags: , | 3 Comments

What 12-21-12 Meant to Me by Lori Clarke, Guest Blogger

Note from Carla Woody: Lori Clarke is a Canadian who traveled with us on the Winter Solstice 2012 program. She has generously offered impressions of her travels and a day she’d been anticipating for many years.


The anticipated climax of my trip was to be the day of the end of the Mayan calendar, December 21, 2012.  I have been following this day since my mid 20’s, copying the date into each new years calendar.   In my 20’s, the date seemed a life time away but now in my mid 50’s, the date is actually here… right now…

I decided several years ago that when this date arrived, I didn’t want to be home.  I wanted to be able to say where I was on that date, when whatever happened…or didn’t happen…on the Winter Solstice of 2012.  The end of the Mayan calendar and by some peoples’ interpretation, an accurate prediction of ‘the end of the world.’

Maya Relief

Maya Relief
©2012 Lori Clarke

I left Canada on Dec 8. Our ambitious itinerary kept us busy traveling and participating in healing and fire ceremonies, dinners with traditional families, textile and art gallery tours with our guides, visiting churches, museums and sacred sites.  Meeting our guides, hearing their stories and feeling their passion was inspiring, lifting.  It is very encouraging to learn that there is quite a collective movement cultivating the Mayan culture–the archaeological and historical richness, and striving to find the balance between maintaining tradition and economic growth in an increasingly modern world.  Pride in their ancestral lineage, increased understanding between the many language dialects and unity are essential components for their future.  The Maya were not defeated but very much alive.  Coming together.

Our group of 12 arrive in Palenque on Dec 19.  We spent the day touring the ruins and hear about Maya cosmology.  Upon returning to our lodging after a long, hot and humid day, I laid down before having dinner.  I increasingly didn‘t feel well and ended up vomiting.  After all these years of anticipating this date, how could I be sick and miss Dec 21, 2012.  I didn’t eat dinner that night.    Then, as night fell upon us, it began to rain.  We have not seen any rain on our trip and now, on the eve of Dec 21, it is not only raining but we are having a torrential downpour.   I began to worry if we were even going to the site in the morning if this rain continues.

Temple of the Foliated Cross

Scene from the Temple of the Sun toward the Temple of the Foliated Cross.
©2012 Lori Clarke.

To my astonishment, I woke up in the morning feeling fine.  It was a one-time appellation, no diarrhea, no headache.  Very strange.  But it does continue to rain.  We gather, eat breakfast and catch a cab to the Palenque ruins.    Along the road we pass a large group of walkers.  Maybe a 100 people, all soaking wet, singing and dancing on their way to the site.  Mostly young people, long hair, oddly dressed and obviously free-spirited.  At the gate, we are the first people in line and wait to get our tickets.  While we are waiting, we notice that the rain has stopped.  How timely.  The large group of walkers then arrive and fill up the entrance area.  Moments later, our group was allowed in 15 minutes before the park was officially open.  We quickly walk to the selected area and climb the steps up to the temple (The Temple of the Sun).  To our amazement, we have the place to ourselves, only one security person and us.  The rain has stopped but the grounds are wet and slippery making the climb rather tricky.   We look out over the jungle canopy and observe the low level of clouds, hanging heavy and providing a misty, mysterious mood to the morning.   We had a beautiful period alone on top of the temple looking down at the altar and up over the treetops.  It was a sacred moment.  The rain began again and groups of people started to arrive on site.  How truly special it was to experience this quiet and private time alone in the heart of Palenque.  No distractions from completely being present and absorbing all of its splendour.

However breathtaking this moment was in space and time, it wasn’t what we were expecting.  It had been our plan to see the sun rise above the jungle canopy at 8:36am.  The anticipation of being there to see the first peak of the rising sun on Dec 21, 2012 was exhilarating.  As much as it was disappointing that it didn‘t happen that way, it had to be realized that, unseen to us, the sun certainly did rise that morning.  A very powerful acknowledgement.

It continued to pour.  We all were varying degrees of wet and a little annoyed with all this rain.  But then I had another realization.  Water is life.  The rain is cleansing and water inspires growth, like the planted seed.

My eyes were then attracted to the altar in the centre of this area.  It was great to see it this morning without people sitting on or hanging around it, as was the case yesterday.  The altar is stone in the shape of a cross.  The centre of the cross is also marked, marked with another raised stone.  To me, this represents the heart.  From the heart, energy flows out in all four directions.  Each direction having it’s own strength and character.  Standing at the top, I could see it clearly.

I decided to go down to the altar and stopped for a moment at each of the four directions.  I then noticed that the rain falling on the temple steps was pooling and then cascaded over and down the stairs creating the flow of a waterfall.  I had glad I decided to wear my sandals this morning so I didn’t have to worry about my shoes getting wet.  I chose to be childlike and walked through the puddles.  I intentionally walked up the steps of the highest temple, following the cascading waterfall.  I imagined, feeling like a spawning salmon climbing upwards against the flow.   Reaching the top, I noticed my heavy breath.  After a few moments, I made my decent following the same path down.

As I left this area, and walked between the two sets of major ruins, I felt a strong wind.  As I learned in Peru, I stopped, opened my arms and greeted the energy.  I stood still for a moment breathing in the breath.

Dec 21, 2012  is the beginning of a new era.  What was profound to me on this date is what I already know to be true.  Believe in the unseen.   I saw very clearly, that when we are aligned with a higher power, and are connected at the heart, we will be nurtured and guided so our energy will flow outward in love and be of service to the universe.   Through our own free will, each one of us as individuals will live our life and learn the lessons through our authentic souls.

©2012 Lori Clarke. All rights reserved. Reprinted with permission.

Rain at Palenque

Rain cascading over the steps leading to the ball court,
Dec. 21, 2012.
©2012 Carla Woody.

Categories: cultural interests, Healing, Indigenous Wisdom, Maya, Spiritual Evolution, Spiritual Travel | Tags: , , , , | 1 Comment

Lineage: Calling on the Ancestors

January 2012

The nondescript address promised little from the street. I opened the old wooden door to slip through the walled entryway and found otherwise. Carol Karasik and I had arranged with the group to meet at Laughlin House, one of the oldest houses in San Cristóbal de Las Casas, then owned by anthropologist Robert Laughlin and his wife Mimi. Carol had been staying at the venerable hacienda—and, with all its rustic charm and lush garden, it seemed the perfect place for our evening gathering.

Dusk was coming quickly. I wandered through the narrow, uneven paths admiring the beauty of the garden, down to the small greenhouse at the far end. As I passed by the main house I noticed a woman kneeling in the grass separating the dwelling from the garden. She was carefully digging a shallow circle, exposing the dirt, already preparing the space. Copal smoke rose from the pedestal burner.

Floridalma (Flori) Pérez González, a traditional  Ajq’ij, a Maya Daykeeper from a Mam village in the mountains of northern Guatemala, was there to offer us a fire ceremony, so sacred to her people. As the rest of the group drifted in, she invited us to join her and sit in circle. We watched in silence as the altar grew on the bare dirt: sugar drawn in a symbol reflecting the day in the Maya calendar, fist-sized balls of resin mixed with shredded wood, candles laid in a circle as offerings to the Nawals, Day-Spirits of the calendar, and Four Directions, sticks of pine pitch, rose petals around the perimeter.

Fire Ceremony Altar

Fire Ceremony Altar

By this time it was dark, just the glow from the incense burner reflecting on our faces; we were cocooned, a timeless place separate from the everyday world. Flori spoke softly and asked me to express the collective intent of the group, then invited each one in the circle to offer their individual words. She lit the fire and invoked the presence of the spirits, praying intermittently in her Maya dialect and Spanish.

Floridalma Pérez González

Floridalma Pérez González

The fire’s flame rose. She called on the Nawals and Ancestors, Grandmothers-Grandfathers, inviting them to accept our petitions and blessings through the smoke. Every now and then she reached her hand into a bag and threw herbs upon the flames. The fire changed shape, moving against the light breeze, not with it. Flori told us the meaning and said it was a good sign. We were drawn into her soft prayers, the flames and, otherwise, the stillness.

After a time, she passed thin, white tallow candles asking us each to take eight, then instructing us to separately approach the fire and, as we settled the candles one by one into the fire, call out the names of those who have gone ahead of us, our Ancestors, to welcome them to our circle, to bless them, as they who are part of who we are, to hear our prayers.

I started. In that moment, I realized that I knew so little about my own family line—but a few names, not nearly enough for the candles I held in my hand. I attempted to sweep the corners of memory to see if anything arose. It didn’t. And when it came my turn to kneel at the fire, beyond three names I could name no more. I placed the remaining tapers, intending they would find their match.

But sadness arose; a hole was uncovered. I didn’t know My People.

I recognized then one of the reasons I’m so drawn to Indigenous traditions. Upon introduction, a number of Wisdom Keepers I’d met would identify their villages and clans going back a few generations. I’d been told that the purpose was to offer any mutual connections. But it’s also a clear statement of identity, place in the world. Those who maintain their traditions are grounded through lineage, lending spiritual strength. Hearing these pronouncements always stirred something poignant in me, as though I was attempting to reach out, to find my own conscious grounding. But I had none in that way, not of the blood that ran in my veins, the places My People had walked, or what aspects of them resonated through time to find residence within me—beyond my own mother and father. I discovered I wasn’t alone. Several of the members of the group struggled in their own way. It was a powerful ceremony.

Fire Photo

It is said that the fire works on you over time.

Its work with me began immediately. I emailed my folks the next morning mentioning the intent of the fire ceremony and my sadness for lack of knowledge of the family line. My mother wrote back saying, “It’s strange you should mention this because yesterday we started cleaning out old boxes…and found papers tracing your father’s family tree!” One of his distant cousin’s had undertaken the search years ago. The papers had been forgotten. We were both astounded at the timing of their urge to clean. I asked my mom if she’d begin looking into her line; she had little knowledge either. She promised she would.

Tracking genealogy is something of an art, sometimes an endless maze with dead-ends, particularly if you have little information at the outset, or experience. My mother got discouraged, having come up with few leads, after much time spent. The project stalled.

December 2012-January 2013

When I visited my folks over Thanksgiving, we talked of family line again. Don Boyd is an old family friend who has become something of an expert in tracing genealogy. I contacted him to see if he would be willing to give my mom some pointers. I then left for my Maya spiritual travel programs over the next two months.

Immediately, there was a flurry of emails between my mom and Don, with copies to me in Mexico and Guatemala. In no time flat, Don was able to produce information that led to a fairly extensive maternal family tree. Although some of the data petered out, thanks to Don and my dad’s distant cousin, I now know most of my lineage.

We still don’t know anything about my dad’s maternal line. But, for the rest, My People were all from the South. My paternal grandfather’s line traces back to 1724 England—and, a curious aside, includes Arthur Woody, the “legendary barefoot forest ranger” one of the first pioneering forest stewards in the US. My maternal grandfather’s people go back to 1766 Ireland. Cherokee lineage exists on both my maternal grandparents’ sides, for sure one documented to 1867 North Carolina. There’s a possible trace of another Cherokee ancestor as far back as 1797 Tennessee, but that one is difficult to prove.

Sunset over San Cristóbal de Las Casas.

Sunset over San Cristóbal de Las Casas.

Less than a week ago we met Flori at dusk. The fiery sunset announced the fire that would be lit in ceremony on the ground, perhaps already mirroring back to us our prayers that would rise. And when it came my time to approach the fire and lay the tapers, I called on my Ancestors, My People, clearly by name. I’ll never know all their stories but I can now intuit their lives—and feel their influence on me, rising up through time, running in my blood, to my place in the world.

I am grateful to the fire.

Fire Ceremony Photo

Categories: cultural interests, Healing, Indigenous Wisdom, Maya, Spiritual Evolution, Spiritual Travel | Tags: , , , , , | 3 Comments

Thought Forms in Black and White

I was in Bali during August 2007, most of it spent in Ubud. In my experience, it’s rare to be in a culture where the spiritual traditions and values are so visible even to a casual observer. There are many things I took away with me, but I’ll offer just a few here.

The first has to do with prayer and ritual integrated into everyday life. There are temples everywhere—public temples, shrines on the streets. And every family compound has an altar even if it’s a small one tucked into a corner, but many are quite elaborate.

Offerings©2007 Carla Woody

©2007 Carla Woody

The women seemed to spend a lot of time making small, flat offering baskets from bamboo fronds, measuring about 4 inches square. I’d see them sitting outside storefronts or on the sidewalks talking together while their fingers were busy. For the last week I was there, every morning I watched an elderly woman make her rounds in the bungalow compound where I was staying. She carried a large flat basket in her arms, which contained those smaller ones all holding flower petals, incense, rice, things to attract notice of the gods and signify prosperity. Not only did she place one at the compound shrine and at the base of all the statues, but in front of the bungalow doorways and even on the manager’s desk of the adjacent Internet café; all the important places to create a flow. Later walking through the streets or driving through the countryside, I’d note them in front of businesses and homes, almost everywhere.

The moments for remembrance and gratitude were ongoing. Not a time set aside, but included. One day I had hired a driver to take me to the coast. Along the way, he asked if I minded if he stopped for a few minutes. He pulled over outside a kind of marketplace. While I was fooling around with my camera, he got out. When he returned he had rice pressed into his forehead. During one night’s dinner I was enjoying my food (immensely) and observing my surroundings. One of the servers would stop the others as they passed by. She dipped a flower in a water glass and then anointed them on the head with it. Not playing around, but blessing them.

The understanding of interconnection is also prevalent—family, the banjar, the community. Our style of life in the West is shocking to them. The fact that we seem so disconnected when “I am because you are.”

Bali Translator©2007 Carla Woody

Bali Translator
©2007 Carla Woody

Perhaps more than anything I was taken with the sacred statues that were prevalent at every turn, not just in the temples. They seemed so exotic and expressive to me, not at all benign. I had a very kind driver who was not only quite curious about my culture but also eager to inform me about his.

He said, “Foreigners make a mistake and say we have so many gods. That’s not so. Our gods stay inside the temple and are only brought out for special times.”

I asked him about some of those I saw frequently that look somewhat like serpents or dragons and he disclosed that they were translators, conduits. They took the messages of the gods and translated them so we could understand them. And when I asked him about the black and white checked sarongs on just about all of them, which I was quite fascinated by, this is what he said.

“They remind us that we all have both good and not so good inside of us. This is to remember balance.”

In Bali, those reminders abound. Balance. Work gets done, but the days aren’t overly long. Acceptance of both sides of human nature without going to either extreme, or rejecting part of the self. Connection. And the middle road is valued. No wonder I was so touched—and relaxed.

Categories: cultural interests, Indigenous Wisdom, Sacred Reciprocity, Spiritual Travel, Travel Experiences | Tags: , , , | Leave a comment

The Holy Places

A Chance Encounter

In July 2012 I visited Ireland with my folks. We’d driven to the Cliffs of Moher finding the coast socked in with fog, nothing visible. Somewhat disappointed, we continued on the narrow, winding road toward the village of Liscannor following the map back to the cottage where we were lodged miles beyond. I almost didn’t see the small sign pointing off to the right that said: Saint Brigid’s Holy Well.

At the time, I didn’t know anything about Saint Brigid or Ireland’s holy wells. But I did know that springs, caves and other natural formations are often special places of ceremony and prayer for ancient and present-day peoples who connect with the Creator through those means. Due to the countless rituals and natural properties of such sites, pronounced energy resides in an ongoing way, a container. I’ve experienced many of them.


Altar at Saint Brigid’s Holy Well.
Photo: Carla Woody

 Saint Brigid’s Holy Well

The holy well wasn’t immediately apparent. In fact, we doubled back on the country lane that took us way back in farmers’ fields to return to the original intersection. On top of the hill was a cemetery but below was a small courtyard. Tucked into the hill was a slit just wide enough to hold one person. Visible even from the outside, figures of saints sat in a tight row leading into the darkened inner chamber; layers of rosaries adorned them. The short path ended in front of the spring. Prayer cards, handwritten messages and photos of loved ones covered the walls. One step inside and there was no doubt that we had entered sacred space; the energy was palpable. Petitions for healing, devotion and hope hung in the air. My mother said she felt sadness. I’m sure that was present, too.

But there was also celebration and gratitude. The note from five year-old Jimmy Delany said that at three weeks old he stopped breathing in his mother’s arms. He was revived but in a coma. He recovered without the side effects expected by the docs—that he’d be a “vegetable.” “Unexplainable,” they said.

Jimmy Delany's Note of Thanks

Jimmy Delany’s note of thanks.
Photo: Carla Woody

Holy Waters

Holy Waters
Photo: Carla Woody

I stayed there for quite a while, long after my folks went ahead to the cemetery, and performed my own ritual. Kneeling before the spring, I dipped my palms and brought the waters over my head, whispering my own prayer. And in that moment, I felt the sweetest sense of fullness, an energy transmission that deposited itself in my sacral chakra. I have no other way to speak of it—and it’s with me still, present every morning during meditation.

On the stairs up to the cemetery a small tree was covered with ribbons, small pieces of cloth and more rosaries. An old custom most often maintained by Ireland’s Travellers, when something is hung from a “rag tree” it’s believed to heal the person it belongs to as the item weathers and disintegrates.

I had no foreknowledge that: “…This site has a particularly mysterious atmosphere which may be felt at once by the pilgrims as they enter…” But I can speak from experience just as from other times at the holiest of places.

Before being claimed by the Christians, Brigid was known as the “exalted one” credited with miraculous healings and patron saint of the Celtic Druids. Saint Brigid’s crosses are seen all over Ireland. The story goes that, after healing a chieftain, she made a cross out of rush in thanks. I bought one to bring home but I need no reminder of my time at her holy well.

Categories: Healing, Meditation, Spiritual Evolution, Travel Experiences | Tags: , , , , , | 7 Comments

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