Posts Tagged With: Xavier Quijas Yxayotl

The Unborn, the Ancestors

Little girl…little boy. You, the leaf! You, the new branch! Listen to me. Listen to this song I have. A word I have…a speech. You must be dreaming. You must be sleeping. Are you tired? Can I speak to you? Are you tired? Are you dreaming?

I want to talk to you. I have a word from my heart to you. Would you want to talk to me? Would you want to move?

You are the reason my heart is alive! You are the reason my life is complete!

In a lilting voice he gently coaxed then paused, just as his lineage had for centuries. He sought a cue, maybe movement, to let him know he’d made a connection.

From the beginning of March, I’d traveled with Maya Daykeeper Apab’yan Tew to Kansas, Hopi and elsewhere around Arizona. Between journeys I was privileged to host him in my home. Now we were in the last days of the month, he stood—delicately poised in traditional dress, eyes half closed, an arm lifted, hand upturned—at the front of the room. The rest of us seated, in a meditative state.

Huichol composer-musician Xavier Quijas Yxayotl played his flute softly in the background, his music framing Apab’yan’s words. Monita Lynn Baker joined in with just the appropriate bit of percussion. I’d invited Xavier to our Spirit Keepers Series gathering at North Mountain Visitors Center in Phoenix to reconnect with Apab’yan. They hadn’t seen each other in 25 years. Their ritual music-dance teachers were friends but both had long passed.

Apab’yan had spoken at length on K’iche’ Maya worldview—originating from the Guatemalan highlands—and his responsibilities as a Daykeeper working with the Cholq’ij calendar. During the course of the evening he revealed that he’d acted as a traditional midwife for the last 16 years. He had a patient with a difficult pregnancy, the baby in a questionable position, awaiting his return home. This mention naturally led into the singing speech we experienced, the intervention meant to guide the baby to reposition on its own in utero, to align correctly with the birth canal.*

The song ended. The room was silent, the energy palpable. I think we must all have been touched in ways indefinable. Perhaps there was something enlivened that had been asleep. Or a dream grounded into this reality. Perhaps there were aspects we each may have carried into this life from our mothers and fathers—inner vulnerabilities—that were soothed, shed. This was a perfect portal to usher us into the fire ceremony the next day.

North Mountain Visitors Center abuts the Phoenix Mountain Preserve. The beautiful grounds are pristine, belying its poignant past. It was here, from the 1890s until 1930s, that many Native families camped, attempting to see the children taken from their homes and subjected to forced assimilation at the Phoenix Indian School. Interspersed were the tuberculosis camps in the early 1900s for those seeking the curative properties of dry desert air.

We gathered, in the shadows of the small ampitheatre, and Apab’yan consecrated an altar space where he would guide the fire ceremony. And it was here that he would call upon the ancestors. In his own words

Everything is alive. Everything has a form of communication. Everything has meaning and belongs to a natural system.

The Maya ceremony consists of preparing a ceremonial pyre. It is called a gift but also a payment in the sense of reciprocity. The K’iche’ ceremonial pyre is not a bonfire; it does not burn a long time. It does not need to last. The importance has to do with what happens while the fire is active: There must be a dialogue.

As normal, those assembled took part in the building of the altar, some given special roles. One held the fire stick. Some were called upon to make the first lighting. Two others to pass out candles. And the fire began to burn. Puffing on the ceremonial cigar, Apab’yan called for the Grandmothers-Grandfathers to be present. He made the prayers. Placing candles, we made our own prayers. At long last, the fire started to die down, the conversation coming to completion.

But not yet.

Apab’yan went over to Xavier and Monita, whispering to them. After asking me to lead the circle in holding space, those three walked into the desert. And then…on the air…from the distance…we heard flute and voice rising and falling…singing to the land…to any lingering ghosts of sadness…offering up prayers. And some strange force blew through. It overtook my body. Ever so slowly, involuntarily, my body began to arch backwards until it was in an impossible position. Held. For what seemed like forever. Until it let me go. When I opened my eyes, I saw the Diné woman across the circle crying.

When they re-entered the circle, Apab’yan knelt before her and asked her to ritually bless him with burning sage. That image and the power of it sticks in my mind: Diné woman, Maya man.

The ceremony now closed, the sense of what occurred remained. A communal undertaking. Correctly done. Even as I’m writing this now, I’m feeling into the sacred space…all over again…we all created. I imagine it still hangs in the air in the ampitheatre, the people who pass through wondering what has touched them.

I’ve been in powerful ceremonies before. Fire ceremonies, too. But none ever as compelling as this one. Perhaps it was the culmination of all the energy accumulated from all the ceremonies over a month’s time, carried with us…from Hopi…to private land outside Wichita…to private and public sites in Tucson and finally in Phoenix. And some particularly precious energy remains within my own sanctuary.**

With much respect and gratitude to Apab’yan  and those who showed up in these ritual circles. The journey continues in January in Maya Land with the strength we gathered in March. Anyone drawn is welcome.

Below I’m adding a piece written by Pam Hale Trachta with her own reflections.

 The Power of Ritual and Ceremony

The smoke from the copal grew thicker in the room, as Apab’yan fed the small container fire with the granules of incense, and his prayers. People seated around him and behind him prayed too, mesmerized now by the hypnotic chanting in the Mayan language, punctuated by English phrases so we could all track where the prayers were being directed.

The room was darkened in order to suggest the atmosphere of the caves where this water ceremony is usually performed. A bowl of water resting on the table received the blessing, and participants would eventually be offered sips of it, as in communion. Finally, roses were dipped into the water and used to shake drops of water on all those gathered.

It was a potent blessing, because the intimacy and power of ritual transcends cultures, language differences and even philosophical details. Spirit is Spirit in any language. And the language of Spirit is ceremony.

Water Ceremony

Water Ceremony at Tacheria Interfaith School of Spiritual Direction in Tucson. Photo: Pam Hale Trachta.

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 * Apab’yan Tew is likely the only male Maya midwife that exists. He knows of no other. Indeed, it’s not traditional. It occurred because, when he was a lost young man wandering in the Guatemala highlands, a Maya midwife took him in. And before long he assisted her in the process. He became her apprentice until he began to birth babies on his own. He remains readily sought after as a midwife. When in the highlands he does everything from the beginning: talks, sings, moves and delivers the baby. In the city, he prepares everything until the point of delivery then sends the mother to the hospital for final delivery by a doctor. This was the case recently in Mexico City. Apab’yan and the mother were able to bypass the difficulties of the pregnancy. She successfully delivered a baby girl.

**With many thanks to the following people and organizations for hosting us and making the March beauty possible:

  • On Hopi: Charlene and Harold Joseph;
  • In Kansas: Lonetta Lollar and John Brack, and Belle Dessa and the Great Plains Earth Institute;
  • Elsewhere in Arizona: Pam Hale Trachta, Frank Williams and Tacheria Interfaith School of Spiritual Direction, Leslie Spencer-Snider and North Mountain Visitors Center, and Cindy Heath.
Categories: cultural interests, Gratitude, Indigenous Wisdom, Maya, Sacred Reciprocity | Tags: , , , , , | 2 Comments

An Inspired Life: Xavier Quijas Yxayotl

In late 2013 Xavier Quijas Yxayotl—Huichol composer, musician and artist—shared his life story with me. It was a real privilege to hear of his origins, struggles and inspirations. The thing about Xavier is that you’d normally never know the details of his backstory. But maybe you would pick up there’s something deeper. He carries a sense of humility that typically only comes by having gone through hard times…survived…and having instilled great meaning in his life, touching others through his craft and presence.

Xavier Quijas Yxayotl

Portrait of Xavier Quijas Yxayotl with one of his handmade ancestral flutes. ©2015 Barry Wolf. All rights reserved. Used with permission.

With permission I turned his disclosures into a narrative that was picked up in 2014 by Still Point Arts Quarterly for their Fall 2015 issue. I thank editor Christine Cote for giving this important story space. I can now share the story in its entirety here as Xavier told it to me. I hope you are as inspired as I was.

 ***

 Through the Dark

 The boy fidgeted. He was in foreign territory, held prisoner by his mother’s hand on his arm. They sat side-by-side in matching chairs before the great divide of a massive desk. His mother’s voice rose and fell. Words tumbled over each other as though, if she didn’t get them out fast enough, the man considering them would summarily swat them out the door, no different than pesky insects.

An hour before, his mother pulled him along inner city streets into a massive building. They finally stopped in front of one door among several down the long hall. She smoothed her skirt and combed fingers through his black hair. With a deep breath, she opened the door. The secretary looked up.

“Please, I would like to see the director,” his mother said.

“Do you have an appointment?” The secretary appraised them, noting their dusky skin and worn clothing. When she shook her head, the secretary motioned them to a row of chairs against the wall and picked up the phone. They waited.

The man behind the desk was impeccably dressed in a gray suit matching the color shot through his dark hair and mustache. The lines in his face softened as he listened, shifting attention from the Indian woman before him to the boy, eyes downcast, clutching a notebook in his lap.

“Maestro Caracalla, I am Señora Isabel. This is my son Xavier. He’s different, a good artist. In school he always fights because no one understands him, not the teachers, not the other kids. He’s always thinking. Since he was old enough to hold a pencil, he always draws and writes about everything. He’s like an old person in a little boy’s body!”

The woman continued at length relating how, in the last two years, her son kept running away to live on the streets. Xavier slept in parks, skipped school, survived by selling newspapers and shoe shines. Terrified, she would search and drag him home, if she was fortunate to find him. But the next day he’d be gone again. He wouldn’t do what his father wanted: to set aside these silly pastimes, to work making shoes to help support the family.

“We have seven children. Xavier is the youngest boy. We are very poor. But he is so different and I’m afraid what might happen to him. Is there something you can do?” She finished softly.

Maestro Caracalla gestured to the boy’s notebook, “Is this your work?”

Xavier froze in his chair and prayed to disappear. He didn’t think the Maestro would hit him like his father did, but he dreaded the reprimand he knew would come. He whispered, “Yes.”

“Show it to me then.” The room was silent save the sound of Maestro Caracalla slowly turning pages after scrutinizing each one. Finally he closed the book. Looking over wire-rimmed glasses, his eyes seemed to bore into Xavier’s very soul. He gazed at Señora Isabel then back at the boy, whose reddened face was moist with sweat. “Señora, I don’t think you have any idea what a beautiful child you have. What ideas! His writing doesn’t match his age. He’s not a normal child. You have to do something with him. We have to help him!”

Maestro Caracalla told her to bring the boy back the following Monday, handing over a long list of art materials to buy. There’s not enough to eat! How can we buy art supplies? Guilt flooded Xavier’s mind. He was certain of a dead end. But at the appointed time his mother delivered him to the Maestro. She could only muster a clean new drawing tablet and 6B pencil, keeping even that small expenditure hidden from her husband. The secretary ordered a sandwich for Xavier, although he said he didn’t need anything.

“Ah, there you are,” the Maestro swept in from his office. He took Xavier by the hand and led him down the hall. They stopped in all the classrooms where he spoke to the teachers, “I want to introduce Xavier. He’s coming to take classes.”

That is how an eleven-year-old Huichol Indian boy from the streets came to attend Escuela des Artes Plásticas, the art school in Guadalajara, Mexico—the youngest pupil ever to sit alongside regular university students. They became his peers and friends. Maestro Caracalla continued as his benefactor for six years, making sure he had all the classes he needed: writing, painting, art history and more…

Xavier Painting 1

Painting by Xavier at the age of 18. Photo courtesy of Xavier Quijas Yxayotl. All rights reserved.

 

Xavier painting-2

Xavier with one of his painted pow wow drums. Photo courtesy of Xavier Quijas Yxayotl. All rights reserved.

Continue reading Xavier’s story here and find out how he returned to the Huichol roots denied him as a child, and went on to resurrect ancient instruments lost to time through visitations from his ancestors.

Categories: Indigenous Wisdom, Interview, Music Review, The Writing Life, Visual Arts | Tags: , , , , | 3 Comments

Through the Dark in Still Point Arts Quarterly

Fire flute

Xavier playing the fire flute, his own translation of a ceremonial experience. Courtesy photo.

I was privileged to interview Xavier Quijas Yxayotl, who grew up on the streets of Guadalajara, Mexico. Until adolescence he was spurned by peers, misunderstood by teachers and family alike, often abused. Then an unlikely benefactor came forward whose support opened possibilities. But it was the boy who stepped up, seized them, grew his talents and embraced the Huichol Indian lineage his family denied. Especially notable, he resurrected ceremonial instruments of his homeland that were lost to time; the way to do so came through dreams. His is an inspirational story of a boy who answered his calling—against all odds—and went on to become internationally known as a composer, ritual musician, artist and spiritual healer.

I’m delighted to announce that my article Through the Dark is being published in the Fall 2015 issue of Still Point Arts Quarterly, a literary arts journal, with much appreciation going to Xavier for indulging me. Here’s the preview of a story of true intent.

The boy fidgeted. He was in foreign territory, held prisoner by his mother’s hand on his arm. They sat side-by-side in matching chairs before the great divide of a massive desk. His mother’s voice rose and fell. Words tumbled over each other as though, if she didn’t get them out fast enough, the man considering them would summarily swat them out the door, no different than pesky insects.

An hour before, his mother pulled him along inner city streets into a massive building. They finally stopped in front of one door among several down the long hall. She smoothed her skirt and combed fingers through his black hair. With a deep breath, she opened the door. The secretary looked up.

“Please, I would like to see the director,” his mother said.

“Do you have an appointment?” The secretary appraised them, noting their dusky skin and worn clothing. When she shook her head, the secretary motioned them to a row of chairs against the wall and picked up the phone. They waited.

The man behind the desk was impeccably dressed in a gray suit matching the color shot through his dark hair and mustache. The lines in his face softened as he listened, shifting attention from the Indian woman before him to the boy, eyes downcast, clutching a notebook in his lap. “Maestro Caracalla, I am Señora Isabel. This is my son Xavier. He’s different, a good artist. In school he always fights because no one understands him, not the teachers, not the other kids. He’s always thinking. Since he was old enough to hold a pencil, he always draws and writes about everything. He’s like an old person in a little boy’s body!”

The woman continued at length relating how, in the last two years, her son kept running away to live on the streets. Xavier slept in parks, skipped school, survived by selling newspapers and shoe shines. Terrified, she would search and drag him home, if she was fortunate to find him. But the next day he’d be gone again. He wouldn’t do what his father wanted: to set aside these silly pastimes, to work making shoes to help support the family.

“We have seven children. Xavier is the youngest boy. We are very poor. But he is so different and I’m afraid what might happen to him. Is there something you can do?” She finished softly.

Maestro Caracalla gestured to the boy’s notebook, “Is this your work?”

Xavier froze in his chair and prayed to disappear. He didn’t think the Maestro would hit him like his father did, but he dreaded the reprimand he knew would come. He whispered, “Yes.”

“Show it to me then.” The room was silent save the sound of Maestro Caracalla slowly turning pages after scrutinizing each one. Finally he closed the book. Looking over wire-rimmed glasses, his eyes seemed to bore into Xavier’s very soul. He gazed at Señora Isabel then back at the boy, whose reddened face was moist with sweat. “Señora, I don’t think you have any idea what a beautiful child you have. What ideas! His writing doesn’t match his age. He’s not a normal child. You have to do something with him. We have to help him!”

Maestro Caracalla told her to bring the boy back the following Monday, handing over a long list of art materials to buy. There’s not enough to eat! How can we buy art supplies? Guilt flooded Xavier’s mind. He was certain of a dead end. But at the appointed time his mother delivered him to the Maestro. She could only muster a clean new drawing tablet and 6B pencil, keeping even that small expenditure hidden from her husband. The secretary ordered a sandwich for Xavier, although he said he didn’t need anything.

“Ah, there you are,” the Maestro swept in from his office. He took Xavier by the hand and led him down the hall. They stopped in all the classrooms where he spoke to the teachers, “I want to introduce Xavier. He’s coming to take classes.”

That is how an eleven-year-old Huichol Indian boy from the streets came to attend Escuela des Artes Plásticas, the art school in Guadalajara, Mexico—the youngest pupil ever to sit alongside regular university students. They became his peers and friends. Maestro Caracalla continued as his benefactor for six years, making sure he had all the classes he needed: writing, painting, art history and more.

Still Point Arts QuarterlyTo obtain the Fall 2015 Still Point Arts Quarterly—a beautifully illustrated journal featuring art portfolios and featured articles—and read the rest of his fascinating story, go here.

Categories: Arts, Creativity Strategies, Indigenous Wisdom, Spiritual Evolution | Tags: , , , , | 2 Comments

Music Review: Mayan Ancestral Music by Xavier Quijas Yxayotl

xavierqy

Kenosis Spirit Keepers was privileged to sponsor Xavier Quijas Yxayotl in September 2013 for our Spirit Keepers Series held in Phoenix. Xavier is a composer, ritual musician, artist, healer and more. A gentle man of Huichol/Azteca lineage, I’m not sure I’ve met such a multi-talented person who practices his many arts with such humility.

His music carried me beyond this world to another realm entirely. Those nights I slept more soundly than I had in months. Every unique sound—raindrops, wind, birds—are made through instruments he made with his own hands, not environmental recordings. I was able to witness the vast array of clay flutes, whistles and other percussion instruments that comprised his compositions, all adorned with symbolic art.

He first learned to play the flute through his Huichol grandfather as a child, and shortly after began to make his own instruments. But there’s more. In the 1970s, he was called to resurrect ancestral ceremonial instruments destroyed and outlawed during colonial times. Many people are making such instruments now. But back then? No one. How does someone do so when no one else has—and all but a little documentation was obliterated?

I said to Xavier, “Did the calling and ways to make the instruments come to you in dreams and visions?” He confirmed what I sensed. Such things often occur in Indigenous traditions whether to ritual musicians, weavers, midwives, healers, those who hold prayers in varying ways. He also told me, “When I am playing my music, I can often feel my ancestors there standing next to me.”

Xavier has been nominated several times for the Native American Music Award, played at the Nobel Peace Ceremony in Rome, featured on PBS and countless other accolades. For the movie Apocalypto, Mel Gibson contacted him to make the historic instruments used in the movie. Due to union rules, Xavier couldn’t appear in the movie, but he taught the actor-musicians how to play the instruments he made.

We are fortunate that Xavier has a number of CDs available, aside from from Mayan Ancestral Music. You can go to CD Baby to play sample tracks and purchase. Also available on iTunes.

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Our next Spirit Keepers Series program will feature Laura Alonzo de Franklin, curandera (healer/spiritual guide) of Mexhica/Aztec lineage. Mark you calendar for September 26-27, 2014 and join us in Phoenix. Check back for more information soon.

 

 

 

Categories: cultural interests, Healing, Indigenous Wisdom, Music Review | Tags: , , , , | Leave a comment

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