We woke to another beautiful day. Greg was glad that his over-the-top Pepto Bismol counter-attack had succeeded in defeating la venga. He downplayed the triumph saying “Of course, now I probably won’t s**t for a week.” We ate breakfast and met Vilma, who arrived in a cab driven by a friend – Don Patriceño. She told us that Tata was recovering, but was at home under the care of Kukumatz.
Don Patriceño drove us all up the road, then onto a dirt road, from which point we had to walk to the sacred site up a path. The site was in the middle of a large milpa, or corn field with rows of beans in-between, on the slopes of a large hill. It was a bit of a steep walk up to it and I carried a bag of ritual ingredients bigger than a golf bag that easily weighed over 50 lbs. It was serious & strenuous work, but I viewed it as part of the sacrificial preparation for the rite.
The site had three altars of simple stone – two for positive magic and one for “binding” type work. The site is cared for by a Guardian, the land owner, who keeps out anyone who shouldn’t be there, watches over candles or fires left burning, cleans up after the rituals, etc. He appeared when we arrived, recognized Wilma, and then disappeared until the ceremony was over. When I finally set down Wilma’s bundle, it was like a “Bag of Holding.” She proceeded to draw a seemingly endless variety of incenses, velas, and ritual items from within. We talked about how the Elements are viewed in our three traditions. Wilma pointed to the fire and said that it was the home of “los salamandres”, indicating influence from the Western magickal tradition.
Wilma set four candles burning on the main (positive) altar, while I did two more and Greg two more as well. She prepared a fire similar to yesterday’s that consisted of several types of incense, and over in front of the second (positive) altar, a second fire for healing, again as yesterday. She explained to us again the meaning of the day, which was 7 Ajpu, and bears the powers of the deer hunter, the sun, and the hero. It represents “triumph over problems and difficulties”, which seemed auspicious. Also, the numbers 7, 8, and 9 represent balance and “measured strength”, also auspicious for the task at hand (if you’ll pardon the pun).
The ceremony was essentially the same as yesterday, except this time Greg could look at the healing while he watched the main fire so it wouldn’t torch the milpa. Being familiar with the process, both Greg and I felt more comfortable and connected. It was a deeper connection with the Spirits of this place and the Spirits & Gods of these people (the Maya) and of my people (the Wicca), who all seemed to be working together quite happily. Wilma was very pleased about this, and about the other positive things the fire was telling her about the future of our people working together. (During the rite, all three of us saw Spirits in and about the site. I kept seeing a man in a hat and wearing white & blue Maya cloth crouching in a corn row. At first I thought he was harvesting the corn, but a few times he disappeared while I was looking at him!)
For me, the healing part of the ceremony was very personal, so I’m not going to say a lot. It began with Wilma leading me over to the second fire. She did the cleaning passes again, but this time, in addition to limes and eggs, she held small cans of I-don’t-know-what. She tossed ALL of these into the fire. The timing of the cans exploding later was deemed significant.
[Note: It was a very long day and I dozed off writing this part of the report. I dreamed that the ritual continued, but Wilma was wearing a red shawl. When she approached the second fire, it transformed into a crouching young man wearing white & blue – the Spirit from the milpa? She draped her shawl over them both and whispered in his ear. He stood and walked over to me, now sitting at this computer desk. He placed his hand on my left shoulder and watched me type. I woke and decided that I should finish this tomorrow.]
After the cleansing, we returned to the main fire to make offerings and pray for healing. I was told not to look at the smaller fire until it had burned out, even when cans exploded like cannon-shells. She led us all in making offerings of various substances for her giant bag – many different kinds of incenses, but also hundreds of velas of different colors. The first (and loudest) can exploded as I was making a particular offering, which Wilma said indicated the favor of the Spirits.
More positive omens came during the end of the rite. An orange butterfly entered the space and flew to the candle altar. It then circled the main fire sunwise and dashed away. Wilma reminded us that butterflies are often Spirits of the Dead and I wondered if this was Gary Smith. We made offerings for the Dead, followed by offerings for the living. When I made an offering for Rachael Watcher, the flames suddenly twisted around like a spiral, like a little cyclone about two feet tall. Wilma noted this and her earlier comment about the “salamanders” then seemed especially significant.
It felt good to have Wilma do the ceremony as she brought a healing, feminine energy to it. As we wrapped up, the Guardian appeared to see if we were done and he should clean the site. Wilma said that this would be the last work for this trip. What we had done here would continue to progress. She & Tata wanted us to have enough time left see something more of Guatemala than the truck stop hotel. We asked her about Panachel, a former Maya village and now a tourist center on Lake Atitlan. Wilma told us the lake was no longer “the most beautiful lake in the world,” as the guidebook said. We decided we needed to see it before it got worse. So we went back to the hotel, quickly packed our bags, checked out, and took Don Patriceño’s taxi to beautiful Panajachel. On the way, we stopped at Tata’s house to drop off some photos and say one last goodbye.
Going over the crest of the mountains between Panajachel and Chimaltenango we went through one of the hardest rains I’d ever seen. Don Patriceño slowed the taxi to a crawl for much of the mountain pass. We finally reached Panajachel to find that is still very much one of the most beautiful lakes in the world! The lake is surrounded by three volcanoes. We took a hotel outside Panajachel with a few more amenities that an electric showerhead, and took hot showers that reminded us of how fortunate we are in our daily lives to have such luxuries in our own houses.
We headed into Panachel in another tuk tuk. Greg had discovered the address of the only book store in town, where we got out. A couple of women vending on the sidewalk urged us to buy their wares, but with books ahead of us we had no interest. It was a cute little shop, with every book sealed closed, to be opened with the permission of the proprietress. Probably 80% were Spanish, and many of those within our field of interest were American in origin, and hence more expensive than buying them new at home. We both bought some that we though unlikely to be found at home, and then ventured back into the street, passing the women who once again urged us to purchase their weavings, without success.
The street of shops and vendors was pretty typical of such a place anywhere. Many small shops all sold essentially the same things, none of which interested us. As we came back up the street vendors came at us in force after Greg purchased some cheap woven friendship bracelets from a young boy who told us he needed money for his school and to feed his seven brothers and five sisters. It was just the first huckstering story we got, but not the last.
Once they saw money pass hands, the women with more expensive materials got much more aggressive. Neither of us could just brush them off, even when they bore nothing of interest. One woman had a pretty blue manta that attracted Greg’s interest enough to haggle over the price. That incited the rest of the women to a frenzy of entreaties, close to begging in some cases. After I, too, bought a manta, one of the women from in front of the book store, who had been dogging along with the crowd, got angry. “I saw you first,” she cried, and didn’t stop as we strolled away.
A young girl approached and when Greg called her senora she laughed and corrected him. Her laughter, contrasting with the other older women, was almost magnetic, her eyes were lovely, and since her wares were also quite nice he decided to purchase one. This only brought the rest in closer towards their prey (us). The angry woman who had seen us first started badgering me and I was polite in my refusal, but at last she said, “You are a bad man,” and stamped away. Meanwhile Greg had purchased a second piece from the girl with the lovely eyes, who was named Thomasa. Greg told her, “When you go to church you remember to say, ‘Thank you, God for my magic eyes’,” which was just more reason for her to laugh. Her wares were quite nice, and I even bought one. Greg said, “This has probably made her whole month. (turning to her) Que dice, senorita?” “Gracias Dios por mis ojos magicos,” she laughed, and we all went on our way content and happy... Except for the first woman who seemed to be muttering curses at me as she watched all this from a distance and will probably hate la senorita forever now.
In one shop, I saw a perfect gift for Anna. (Since she’ll probably read this before I get home, I won’t say what it was.) The proprietress was a tiny woman, the top of whose head came up to Greg’s arm pit. We got into a serious haggle over this item, with Greg translating. Her comments included “This is hand done by me,” and “You’ll never see something this beautiful,” and “I have to feed my family” and “Look at this work! No factory work here!” and especially “Oh, I need medicine for my poor old leg, look at it,” which she accentuated with a sudden limp and expressions of great trouble and agony, all of which disappeared the next moment as she joyfully claimed “Look at these tiny stitches with my old hands.” It went on for five or more minutes, nonstop. In the end, we reached an agreement that left us both very happy.
We retired to the hotel for a very fine dinner, watching the lightning over the volcanoes again. Greg retired, I sat down to try to write this, and fell asleep at the keyboard (as I mentioned above). The ceiling of our room kept flashing light and dark from the lightning across the lake. In this way, we were lulled into sleep… and dreams.
More to come…
Don Frew (with unfailing aid and support from Greg Stafford)
CoG National Interfaith Representative