Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Indigenous Interfaith meeting in Mexico -- November 20-26, 2013

posted by Don Frew

I’ve just returned from a week of meetings of indigenous interfaith representatives in Tepoztlan, Morelos, Mexico.  This was a follow-up meeting to the one in Guatemala on which Rachael reported last January. 

At that previous meeting a group of representatives of many indigenous spiritualities agreed that there are a significant number of issues and concerns that have not adequately been addressed by the existing large interfaith groups – the United Religions Initiative, the Parliament of the World’s Religions, et al. – and that probably could not be addressed in these organizations in the near future.  Accordingly, many felt the need for a new, independent, global organization focusing on the unique challenges and opportunities of indigenous spiritualities as its primary concern.  There is always room for more at the interfaith table and we hope that a new group like this will be welcomed; there will probably be many people who will hold membership in other interfaith groups as well as this new one.

This meeting in Mexico was a working group of individuals selected to come up with drafts of a name for the group, a description, a vision, a mission, principles, a logo, organizational design, membership, etc. – all to be circulated to the folks who were at the Guatemala meeting for comment, discussion, input, and further conversation.  We plan to have a meeting in 2014 at which the final versions of all these aspects of the new group would be confirmed.

Since the new group has not yet decided on a name, nor yet had a chance to receive and consider the name we are proposing, for now I will just refer to is as “the new group”.  The intent is to create a new, global, indigenous networking group, focused on indigenous spirituality, that will stand on its own – in relationship with, but not under the authority of, the other large interfaith groups like the URI or the Parliament; as Yoland said: “To continue to build on the work that started as was prophesied of coming together to build an integrated new tomorrow where (symbolized by the four colors of the corn) yellow, brown, black and white races will join to work in harmony.”

The working group for this stage consisted of myself (Witch / USA), Yoland Trevino (indigenous Maya / USA), Raul Mamani (indigenous Kolla / Argentina), and Tata Apollinario Pixtun (indigenous Maya / Guatemala).  We met at the home of former URI Trustee Jonathan Rose and his wife Margarita.  (Back in February 2011, I posted several reports to this blog about an earlier URI meeting held here.)

Tata noted that: “The new organization began in December 2012, with the coming together of a new Baqtunic era of the merging of the Eagle, the Condor and the Quetzalcoatl (feathered Serpent) to actualize the prophesies that exist in many indigenous communities such as the Maya, the Hopi, the Aborigines in Australia and many more."

Most of the first day – Wednesday – was spent getting everyone to Jonathan’s.  With numerous delayed and even canceled flights, Yoland, Raul, Tata, and I found each other in the Mexico City airport over the span of  nine hours.  As the time passed and we waited for word of Tata, we started contemplating spending the night on the airport sofas.  I arrived at 2:53pm and Tata didn’t get into the Mexico City airport until 10 minutes after midnight... 20 minutes before the last bus to Cuernavaca, our next stop, pulled out!  Two hours later, we met Jonathan and Margarita in Cuernavaca for a half-hour drive to their house.

Driving through Mexico City in the middle of the night was very strange – with the streets looking like set pieces out of a Val Lewton film.  There were no lit windows looking out onto the mostly-deserted streets.  Doors and windows had metal shutters pulled down over them.  Here and there, bits of light could be seen sneaking around the doors to enclosed compounds.  While now and then there would be a street-light, businesses don’t leave lights on inside their stores like so many do in the US.  It gave the city a singularly empty, apocalyptic feeling and I could well imagine zombies stalking down the streets – so unlike the vibrant street life during the day.

Jonathan's Tea House
By the time I got to bed it was after 4am, but fortunately no one was inclined to get up too early and I slept in ‘til 10am on THURSDAY.  The cathedral around the corner conveniently rings the time on its bells every 15 minutes – but I slept through it without trouble.  We started with a meditation in Jonathan’s secret tea house, hidden behind a wall at the back of his garden.

Tata's ceremony - two fires.

This was followed by a Mayan ceremony led by Tata.  I wore my cord as a Gardnerian and a hat loaned by Jonathan, since head coverings for men are preferred in Tata’s practice.  When the time came for individual prayers, I offered a modified version of the Wican “Dryghton Blessing”.  All of us were giving thanks for managing to finally make it to this place and asking blessings on the work we would be doing over the next few days and in the future.

Clockwise: Jonathan, Margarita (standing), Gudelia, Tata, Raul, Yoland

Jonathan's Witch sign.
After a wonderful breakfast, prepared by Jonathan’s wife Margarita and housekeeper Gudelia, Jonathan showed us around, since Tata had not been here before.  Jonathan took great pleasure in showing me the new sign outside his kitchen door – a witch on a broom with a switchable sign saying "The Witch is in / out.”  It became a ritual for me to change the sign every time we gathered for meals.

Work on the veranda.
We got to work around a table on the veranda of Jonathan’s guest house, outside Yoland’s room.  Tata and Yoland had brought gifts of sweets wrapped in colored leaves and traditional cloth.  While this veranda is a very nice place to work, it can also be distracting, since the view of the surrounding mountains, with the pyramid of Tepozteco over all, is spectacular.
The mountains above Tepoztlan -- white pyramid in the center.
Jonathan was our host, but also helped with translation.  Raul and Tata speak their own languages and Spanish.  Yoland and Jonathan speak Spanish and English.  I speak English and can understand a lot of Spanish, but cannot speak it fast enough for conversation.  Also, Tata’s Spanish is heavily accented by his native Mayan and can sometimes be difficult for me to catch.

We started by reviewing the long history of indigenous organizing that had led to this point, including local work in Latin America, connections made through various URI entities (the Indigenous & Earth Wisdom MCCs, the Spirituality & the Earth CC, and the Global Indigenous Initiative), connections made through the Indigenous Forum at the United Nations and affiliated groups, the work of the Lost & Endangered Religions Project, and several other organizations, but all coming back to personal relationships that had been forged over the years.  We shared our personal stories of involvement in indigenous organizing.  All of us expressed concern over the simultaneous de-valuing of traditional wisdom in our own communities while at the same time the New Age market creates a financial incentive for watered-down, corrupted versions of that wisdom to be packaged and sold to the public.

Getting to work.
After lunch, we reconvened in Yoland’s room, where we could put papers up on the walls and an easel for easier discussion.

Yoland asked each of us to answer four questions:
• Name, organizations that we represent, and personal experiences

• What do I offer our group?

• What hopes do I bring to this meeting?

• What would I like to have achieved after the meeting?

We went around the circle deosil (and all commented on how weird it is that interfaith groups seem to always go counter-clockwise in their meetings).  Each of us spoke about the paths that had led us here, our enthusiasm for and heart-felt connection to this work, the connections we have within our own communities, our concerns regarding the enormity of the task of creating a truly global network with what seems a paucity of resources, and how much we hoped to get done in just a few days.

It seemed that each person came back to their own culture’s version of the aphorism: “Never doubt that a small group of committed people can change the world… because it’s the only thing that ever has.”  Raul spoke of this in terms of being in alignment with the Mother.  Yoland used a metaphor of a stone dropped in a pool of water creating ripples.  I suggested that we think more of a drop of water creating ripples, since the drop becomes part of the substance being rippled.

After hearing the answers from Jonathan, Tata, and Raul, our exhaustion from the previous day of travel was catching up to us (and it was three hours later by Raul’s internal clock), so we broke for dinner and bed.

FRIDAY opened with a meditation in Jonathan’s tea-house, followed by a healing treatment from Tata.  (Many readers know that Tata has been treating me for the results of s surgical accident in 2007 that has severely limited my activities.  His treatments have been the only things that have produced lasting effects.  My neurologist says, “Do whatever he says!”).  After some divination, some ceremony, and some “Maya-practy” bodywork, we went for breakfast.

We resumed our meeting and Yoland and I answered the four questions.  Yoland and I both spoke about walking in two worlds – that of indigenous spirituality and that of the corporate, technocratic West.  We both spoke of our experience with non-profit organizations and about our own organizations.  She founded the Pasadena / Altadena Coalition of Transformative Leaders (PACTL, pactl.org) and has worked with the United Nations, among others.  I founded the Lost & Endangered Religions project and have contributed a lot to the Bylaws and organizational design of several organizations.  Both of us have extensive experience in the URI – Yoland was Global Council Chair for two terms and I am the only Trustee to have served on all four terms of the Global Council.  Both of us have access to funders, resources, and world-wide contacts.

After this, the discussion ranged organically over several topics:

* How did this group relate to the meeting in Guatemala?  This was a more focused group intended to draft core concepts to take back to the folks who had been at the Guatemala meeting for their consideration, discussion, and input.  Nothing would be final until the whole group agreed.

* How would we be making decisions?  By consensus.  (BTW, I had said earlier that one of the things that I brought to this group was CoG’s experience being a national network preserving maximal local autonomy, yet functioning in a Western world; that we had learned simple ways of adapting, and that one of these was twinkling.  Rachel and I had tried to introduce twinkling before, but this group took to it right away.)

* How would membership work?  Would we have individual members?  Organizational members?  Both?  What would the likely criteria be?

* Indigenous organizations have always had difficulties with communication.  Electronic communication is necessary over such large distances, but many people do not have internet capability, or if they do, they don’t have reliable infrastructure supporting it where they live.

* We discussed possible names for this new group.  After some time, we came up with a name that is simple, poetic, evocative, and should translate easily into many languages.  It will be circulated among the members of the Guatemala group for comments and, hopefully, approval.

* Tata shared several proposals for local projects:
    -- When a local group found that plants needed for ceremony were becoming extinct, they organized the creation of their own gardens where such plants could be grown for ceremony and the excess packaged and sold.
    -- A similar project was created to make the special fabrics for ceremonial garb.
    -- There were similar projects for traditional arts, music, stories, etc.

Tata told us that he had written down all the traditional lore that he had been taught in 14 volumes in Spanish.  These had been translated into English, but the Spanish version had been lost (under complicated circumstances).  He showed us a sample of a couple of the chapters.  As I flipped through this, marveling at the intricate Mayan designs, he said that there was only one copy of the English translation!  As I started crying / screaming inside, I calmly told Tata that the Lost & Endangered Religions project would be very happy to come down, scan & transcribe the English texts, and maintain copies in a separate location – all for his use only, unless he said otherwise.  I couldn’t believe that this treasure of traditional knowledge was so close to being lost forever.  This kind of opportunity to preserve traditional wisdom only occurs through interfaith work.  This also meant that the Lost & Endangered Religions Project could be an organizational “partner” with “the new group”.

We shared stories of small cases of indigenous interfaith organizing making a difference.  Yoland had a story from New Zealand.  I told the story of the Tabebe from Ethiopia (http://covenantinterfaith.blogspot.com/2010/01/monday-dec-7-430pm-at-2009-parliament.html).

The Market
After lunch, we all took a walk to the mercado (market), just a few blocks away.

Yoland was delighted to find fruit she can’t get in the US.  Tata was delighted to find chapulines (grasshoppers toasted with garlic, lime juice, and salt made with an extract of agave worms).  He bought a bag to munch on as we walked and was surprised to find that I have had them before and love munching them, too.  Over the next few days, many jokes were made about us eating “bugs”.

Chapulines -- crunchy bugs, yum! (Photo from WikiCommons)
Back at Jonathan’s and back to work… Over the course of the rest of the afternoon we came up with a draft Vision and Mission statement for the new group.

We acknowledged that with the difficulties we have with communication, the process of discussing the proposed name, vision, and mission will take time.  We should expect this and not be concerned, since it is the only way that we can make sure that everyone will be involved in the decisions.  This goes right to the core of who we are and how we will operate.

At this point, it was time for dinner, so we agreed to sleep on the proposed name, vision, and mission and see if anything came to us in the night.

SATURDAY opened with the usual meditation, followed by another treatment with Tata.  After breakfast, we reconvened.  Jonathan said that he was excited by the proposed name and that one of Tata’s projects had reminded him of the project with which he had been involved when he first joined the Spirituality & the Earth CC called “Love & Care of Creation”.

It turned out that, after agreeing to “sleep on” the proposed name, etc., each of us had had unusual dreams the preceding night. 
     -- Tata had dreamed about the five of us working with young people to protect sacred sites & ancestral lands from corporate exploitation.  Strangely enough, all of us were 26 years old in the dream.  (As I think about this now, this might relate to the importance of the number 13 in Mayan cosmology.) 
     -- I had dreamed about a benign virus that spread across the world that did nothing but change people’s genders.  Some feared it, some embraced it, but most accepted it as part of a new reality.  Since it was possible to be re-infected, folks’ genders were constantly changing, resulting in a world of greater balance.
     -- Raul had dreamed of a mountain cave in which was a Mesoamerican pyramid glowing with many colors.
     -- Yoland had woken in the night feeling the presence of Sofia, a woman who'd been part of the Guatemala group.  She said that she also felt a strong feminine energy manifesting in our work.

We interpreted these as being favorable for the name we had come up with.

We discussed a descriptive “subtitle” for the new group, something like “A Global Network of Indigenous Spiritualities”, for example.  We kicked around many different versions of subtitles, including some sent in from Sofia (indigenous Mapuche / Chile) and from Calixto (indigenous Aymara / Bolivia).  We eventually decided on three that would be circulated, but in the process we agreed on an important Principle: Each people would be encouraged to translate not just the words of our materials into their own languages, but the concepts into their own idiom.  For example, many of the Latin American groups use the term “cosmovisiĆ³n” to describe their worldviews, but “cosmovision” doesn’t really work in American English.  “Spiritual worldview” might be closer.  So, whatever subtitle we agree on, it will be phrased somewhat differently in different cultures.

We revisited our proposed Vision and Mission statements and tweaked them slightly, before moving on to organizational design.  Raul and Tata each explained how their cultures’ cosmovisiĆ³nes related to the possible design of an indigenous networking organization.  I explained CoG’s structure and how I view it as a possible way to implement the concepts both Raul and Tata had described.  There was quite a bit of interest in this and I will be writing up a description for the wider group to consider.

After a break, we started looking at how all of this could be implemented in the following areas: administrative team, communication, resources, development, and capacity building.  I suggested a possible logo that could be individually modified to incorporate the symbols and images sacred to each group; for example, in Latin America, the images of the Condor, the Eagle, and the Quetzal are important and could be incorporated.  We assigned primary responsibility for the next phase of moving this all forward.  I will be working organizational design, communication (especially in English), and resource development.

Los Chinelos -- the restaurant.
We broke for lunch and the five of us, with Margarita, went to a nearby restaurant, Los Chinelos.
Chinelo in costume. (WikiCommons)


Chinelos are local folk figures prominent in a parade and festival that just so happened to be happening that day.  They represent conquistadors and each district of the town has their own distinct version of the traditional costume.

Elfos, with "la madre de Don"
After lunch, Jonathan and Margarita went home, while the rest of us went in search of a photographer.  Tata said that he needed five studio photographs of me to take home with him to use in ceremonies as part of my treatment.  We ended up wandering all over town as one place was closed for the festival, another had gone out of business, etc.  We finally found a place and had the photos taken.  While we waited for them to be developed, Raul wandered off.  He returned to tug my arm and say “Brujos!” – “Witches!” – and that I had to follow him.  He led us all to a New-Agey store called “Elfos” – “Elves” – that sold statues of elves, gnomes, fairies, and yes, witches.  (BTW, at least in this part of Mexico, “brujo” is a neutral word with no negative connotation.)

Raul pointed to the figure by the door and identified her as “la madre de Don”.  I suspected that the young, vaguely Gothy woman behind the counter might be a Neopagan of some sort, but wasn’t sure how public she might be.  I asked if there was a store in town that might have books on Wicca in Spanish.  She doubted it, but gave me directions to a place that might.  (As it turned out, we never had time to find that shop.)

Back at Jonathan’s we continued with our work.  Yoland read letters from Sofia and Calixto with input for our meeting.  We wrapped things up with preliminary plans for a meeting of the wider Guatemala group next year.  Yoland and I will be doing most of the research and fundraising for this event.  If we hold it in the US, I hope we can engage some of CoG’s event-planning expertise in whatever part of the country ends up being selected.

That wrapped up most of our work and we had a relaxing dinner and evening.

Wall art in the monastery.
SUNDAY I didn’t have a treatment with Tata planned, so I could sleep in ‘til 7:30.  After breakfast, the “gang of five” met to see if there was anything left to wrap up.  After a short session, we all went of to the Cathedral behind the market, a few blocks away.  There was a small processional event going on, but we were bound for the museum housed in the old monastery attached to the Cathedral.

The local Museum.

I had seen the museum before on a previous trip, so I made a beeline for the museum shop, looking for books on local folklore and archaeology that might be difficult to acquire in the States.  (Now that I’m opening a library, I always feel like I’m “shopping for two”.)  The clerk was very helpful and I found books on local legends, the Maya, the culture & history of Tepoztlan, etc.  I was particularly impressed by issues of arqueologia MEXICANA and picked up a couple on Central American calendar systems (after running them by Tata).  I think I’ll be ordering several back issues.

Jonathan and Margarita went back to the hacienda ahead of us, to meet a young man Jonathan had hired to guide us to the Pyramid on the mountain overlooking Tepoztlan.  I was charged with making sure that our party didn’t dawdle in the market, but got back before noon to meet the guide.  However, Sunday is market day, so the market had doubled in size and was full of temptations.  Tata was trapped by two stalls selling various resinous incenses, while Yoland discovered a stall selling her favorite fruit, which she cannot get in the US.  I kept up the nudging and we got home by noon, but the guide was late.

Torn sign at pyramid.
Jonathan suggested that, while we waited, we could take a walk around the corner to see another Pyramid.  About ten years ago, a local was expanding their driveway when they encountered ancient stonework.  Archaeologists were called in and then soon determined that the stone wall was the terrace of a Pyramid… the top terrace of a Pyramid!  In other words, the now-buried mass of the Pyramid lies under the streets of downtown Tepoztlan.  Aside from putting a fence around the terrace and setting up an explanatory sign, no further work was done.
Pyramid under other stuff.

When we got to the site, Jonathan was horrified to discover that the sign had been torn and the site was getting lost amid the surrounding stalls and surmounting driveway.  Jonathan said that he planned to write the town council about this.  I offered a letter as Director of the Lost & Endangered Religions project, expressing my dismay at this disregard for the rich cultural and archaeological heritage of Tepoztlan.

Back at the house, the guide arrived and we all drove off into the mountains above Tepoztlan.  Some may remember that I tried to reach the Pyramid on my own a few years ago, but got lost in the mountains.  This time, with a guide, we reached the site, but only after nearly an hour of increasingly difficult terrain.
This, quickly became...

... this!


300 metal stairs to the pyramid.

What we had been told would be an easy 20-minute walk was actually much more difficult.  With no warning about this, Yoland was in sandals and soon started having real difficulty.  We passed a waterfall and I gathered water for the Waters of the World.  The last stage of reaching the Pyramid was a 300 step metal staircase.  At the base of the stairs, the path we had come in on joined the path that came up directly from Tepoztlan – a long stairway that we had hoped to avoid by driving around and coming in from above.  By this time, the locals coming up from town had become a swarm of hundreds of people.  

Weekend Pyramiders
It appeared that the Pyramid was a well-known local picnic / party / make-out site.  To make matters worse, some guy was doing aura-cleansings in the center of the Pyramid and blowing a conch every few minutes.  

Mayan ceremony
Even so, Tata led us in a Mayan ceremony at the top, using four colors of maize in a quartered circle (barely visible in the photo below) and the Waters of the World.  We all spoke with the local spirits about caring for and protecting this place and offered our help.  We also got the only photo of all of us together on this trip.

Me, Raul, Jonathan, Yoland, & Tata


None of us relished the idea of revisiting the long trek back to the car in the baking heat.  Jonathan said that he would send the guide back to get the car and drive it to his house, while we could take the stairs down to town.  This sounded simple enough.  It had been so many years since Jonathan had last done this that he had forgotten that the way down was 2 miles of stairs! 


Part of the 2 mile route down.

The view back down to Tepoztlan.  (Jonathan’s 
house is in the middle of the photo.)

And “stairs” is being generous.  Most of the route was just one rock lower than another – some sharply volcanic, some treacherously smooth river rock, many wobbly, all at uneven heights.  While the others got ahead of us – carrying the only remaining full water bottles – I stayed with Yoland.  Her inappropriate shoes and shorter legs were making this really hard going for her.  After an hour or so in the hot sun, we were feeling seriously dehydrated and wobbly on our feet.  Yoland slipped, twisting her ankle and cutting her leg.  We moved at a much slower pace and it started getting dark.  We grew concerned about being on the “stairs” with NO light.  I started seriously considering a med-evac as soon as I could get a cellphone signal.

Yoland persevered and as soon as we got a cell signal, we just called Margarita and asked her to send someone up from town with water.  Raul arrived about 45 minutes later.  We made our way slowly down to town and arrived about a half-hour after sunset.  Needless to say, we didn’t hold our planned business meeting that night, but collapsed into bed after a late supper.

MONDAY started early with another treatment from Tata.  After breakfast, we all got in Jonathan’s and Margarita’s van to visit the nearby site of Xochicalco.  We had planned to visit Teotihuacan, but Margarita had realized that we would spend hours in travel time and had looked for a site closer to home.  She and Jonathan had visited Xochicalco – only about 45 minutes away – and been impressed.

Hilltop city extending to man-made lake in distance.
I am unsure how to report on this site.  On the one hand it consists of amazingly preserved structures in a visually dramatic hilltop setting, with significance for the history of astronomy / astrology, including an underground solar / lunar observatory, and with very few visitors and no stalls / shops to spoil the experience.  On the other hand, when I asked our guide if he wished the site was better known he said “Absolutely not!”  They are happy with the site’s relative obscurity and consequent lack of intrusion by the modern world.  In Mexico, commerce usually trumps archaeology and tourist sites quickly get overrun not just with tourists, but the many businesses that serve them – selling souvenirs, fast food, etc.  There is only one text on the site in English – a map / pamphlet only available onsite.  To respect their wishes and to protect this site for as long as possible, I’ll resist gushing as much as I would like and only show images that have already been shared with the public.

Check the site out on Wikipedia.  Xochicalco (“the house of flowers”) was the center of a trading network based on the shared worship of Quetzalcoatl / Kukulcan and Tlaloc / Chaac.  During its 250 or so years of operation (650-900 CE), it housed Maya, Mixtec, Zapotec, and other communities all at the same time.  The site exposed today was the shared administrative center, but each of the participating cultures had their own sectors and all the surrounding hilltops hide the pyramids of their own administrative acropolises.

In 743 CE, the astronomers of each of the participating communities predicted a solar eclipse.  They came together in a “Congress of the Astronomers” to discuss this and come up with a single calendar for all of them to use.  The Temple of Quetzalcoatl was built to commemorate this.  It shows astronomers from each of the participating city-states, with distinctive garb and physical appearance, each with an image of a mouth devouring the Moon.  Feathered serpents weave them all together.  On the front of the temple (in the center of the image above on the right) is a glyph representing the eclipse.  From that glyph a hand extends down to our left, pushing away a glyph representing the old calendar.  Another hand extends down to our right, pulling a large rope that is attached to a glyph representing the new calendar.

Can you see the hands in the center of the carving?
There is also a “Temple of the Pillars”, on the top of which stood pillars inscribed with the new calendar system for all to see.  In addition, all the old calendar systems were inscribed on pillars that were buried under the center of this temple.



One of five ballcourts.  Players at Xochicalco were not sacrificed, 
as at other Mesoamerican sites.  The guide believed that this was 
due an abundance of food at Xochicalco making such sacrifice 

Deep under the city there is a series of caves, some of which have carefully placed and maintained opening to the surface, allowing the Sun and Moon to shine down onto a pool of water.  Their reflections off the water would then illuminate the chambers.  These were observatories where the positions of the luminaries were tracked.

With only the central acropolis uncovered, a LOT remains to be discovered.  I recommend visiting this site before tourists discover it.

Restaurante "El Brujo"
That evening, after another marvelous dinner prepared by Margarita and Gudelia, I took everyone for dessert at a local restaurant – El Brujo.  Unlike the United States, at least in this part of Mexico “brujo” or “bruja” are neutral terms, without negative connotation.  A hit restaurant across the street from the cathedral can be named “El Brujo” without anyone batting an eye.

That’s it.  We were all exhausted and started calling this the “oh ah summit”, since none of us could take a step down without blurting out “Oh!” or “Ah!” in discomfort.  Still, I always travel with the motto “What does not kill me or leave me permanently disfigured will make a great story later.”  We had a wonderful time, got a lot of work done, and hope to see it all bear fruit in increased networking and mutual support between indigenous spiritualities worldwide.  I’ll keep you informed as things progress.

Thanks and Blessed Be,
Don Frew
National Interfaith Representative
Covenant of the Goddess

Sunday, October 20, 2013

Mayan Elder - Apolinario Chile Pixtun visits SF Bay Area

Mayan Elder visits SF Bay Area
Don Frew & Rachael Watcher
CoG National Interfaith Representatives

Don:  In 2011, I went to Los Angeles to meet with Apolinario Chile Pixtun (affectionately known as “Tata” or “Uncle”), the President of the Mayan Confederation of Belize, Honduras , and Guatemala .   (There’s a nice article and photo of him here: http://www.nbcnews.com/id/33261483/ns/technology_and_science-science/t/even-maya-are-getting-sick-hype/#.UjdT7D-8DW8)

My intent was to engage  him is discussion around Mayan participation in indigenous organizing efforts in the United Religions Initiative.  The then-Chair of the URI’s Global Council – Yoland Trevino, herself indigenous Mayan – told me, “BTW, Tata is a gifted healer.  You should have him work on your arm.”  I have suffered from painful and debilitating complications after an accident during surgery on my spine in 2007 and was willing to try anything.
Rachael Watcher went with me to translate.  While I understand Spanish well-enough, I don’t speak it well or rapidly.  Rachael and I have worked together on interfaith work relating to indigenous Latin Americans for several years.

The meeting with Tata and the treatment I received were described in this blog in April 2011.  The healing was so dramatic that both my neurologist and my pain specialist have said to “continue doing whatever this guy says”.  I saw him twice more in Los Angeles in the years since then, but a trip to Guatemala to work with him for a week at Mayan sacred sites was described in several blog-posts in July / August 2012.

Tata came up to the SF Bay Area just over a month ago (in August) to do 3-4 healing ceremonies with me.  He also asked if I could arrange a special gathering for him.  He said that when he travels he often gives talks on Mayan spirituality, however these talks are open to the general public and are usually filled with people who are hearing about Earth-centered spirituality for the first time.  Could I gather a group of Elders who are already living a life of ceremony in relationship with the Earth, so he could speak to them at a deeper level?  Remembering how CoG’s AAR reception gathered the Bay Area Pagan community in December 2011 (http://bayarea.pagannewswirecollective.com/2011/11/23/cogs-northern-ca-local-council-reception-for-aar/), I said “Sure!”  I also thought that we could do this under the rubric of the People of the Earth events we have held over the past four years; this would just be the first invitation-only PoE event.

My wife Anna and I would be at CoG’s Grand Council in Salem MA until just before Tata’s arrival in the Bay Area, so I got things in motion for the PoE event and then left town with preparations in the able hands of Glenn Turner.  I also left town with great concern over where Tata would be holding the healing ceremonies he planned for me.  Mayan ceremonies usually involve large fires and California in August is very different from the jungles of Guatemala in August.  Oh well, I thought, the Gods will provide.  The more I thought about it, the more I realized the only possibility would be our own back yard.

As soon as we got back in town, I went to the local Fire Department and cleared things with them.  If the neighbors didn’t complain, we wouldn’t have a problem.  This meant going to all the neighbors in a 1 block radius and explaining that a Mayan Elder would be doing fire ceremonies in my back yard over the course of the next week and not to be alarmed by billowing clouds of smoke.  This being Berkeley , the neighbors took it all in stride.

Rachael:  On the day that Tata Polo was due in I swung by to pick up Don, who usually accompanies me no matter what time of day or night our guests arrive, and we drove over to the airport to pick him up.  He was happy to see us and we took him out for breakfast as we discussed the next week’s plans.  In typical indigenous fashion he knew what he wanted to accomplish, but had left arrangements totally up to us.  So we spent a few hours discussing what he would need for the following days and when he would like to hold ceremony, after which Tata and I returned to my house to rest for the work ahead.

Don:  Much as he had assumed that large fires would be no problem, Tata had assumed that many ritual ingredients common in Guatemala would be as easily obtained in the US .  He was surprised to discover that acquiring many of the items he needed would take most of Rachael’s free time over the next few days.  On the plus side, he was delighted to discover that many of the plants from which he would require fresh leaves or flowers were already growing in our back yard.  This is what comes from having a Witch / botanist for a wife.

Rachael:  After breakfast the following morning (which was Monday) Tata and I set out to find a long list of items that he would need for the three days of ritual that he planned to do for Don and the fire ritual that he would do for the People of the Earth event the next Sunday.  I took him to the Dollar store and we bought $80 of stuff which did not actually scratch the surface of his needs.  Eventually we would end up spending more than $600 for the goods to produce these four rituals.  We did get dried laurel, cinnamon sticks, animal crackers, and chocolate-filled chocolate cookies, along with ten glass “crystal” goblets, various candles and four plastic bowls.  We left there with enough bags to fill the back of my Scion and he was elated, saying how much everything would have cost in a regular store.  “I know”, I said. “That’s why I brought you here”.  We came home and he began to comb through my ritual goods discovering my sweet grass and tobacco for local indigenous work, my bags of myrrh and frankincense, my sage which I had gathered and dried the year before and had wrapped for smudging, and my bottle of fairly expensive 151 proof rum which he directed me to put in a “more decorative bottle”.   For what I had originally paid for that stuff you would think that the label would be decoration enough, but he directed me to put it into a plain glass bottle with a glass stopper that had been etched to cause a tight fit, very much like a bottle you might find in a lab that would be used for acid (or in a liquor store to store fine alcohol).

We were to meet Don and Anna for dinner, so before getting there we stopped at Glenn Turner’s store, Ancient Ways, to pick up specifically “Glass” candles (tall, thin glass jars filled with candles) of six different colors, camphor oil, Florida Water and lavender water.  After picking up Don and Anna we headed to Andronico’s, a pretty high-end grocery store, where we continued our scavenger hunt for items.  He wanted something that we could not find a translation for which Greg finally figured out was sesame seeds, some other spices, Mexican chocolate, and fruit.  He wanted dried salmon as well but all that I could find was a couple of ounces at $10.00 a pack.  When I showed it to him he said that it would be good and that he needed ten more.  I must have paled considerably because he took one look at my face and asked if it were expensive.  I told him he’d just asked for $200 in salmon and he laughed and said at that price he’d give the fire a tiny bit and he’d eat the rest.  Then he told me to put it back. 

After this, we all went to dinner and then returned to Don and Anna’s house to find that our work had only begun.  He directed me to begin to break up all of the spices, leaves, branches, bark and incense telling me this had to be done by hand.  Have you ever tried to crumble dried laurel leaves by hand? Then the cinnamon, and then he cut up my sage including the red string and as we were doing that he noticed Don’s Yule wreath which they dry by the fire place and burn at the next Yule.  Having cleaned out pretty much all of my ritual supplies, he apparently planned on continuing the process with Don and Anna.  He immediately glommed onto that as well and wanted us to strip the needles from a great number of branches, break up the branches and add the whole into the tub we were filling.  We broke up a ball of Copal that Don had purchased from Tata years ago (when they had first met in Pittsburgh in 2000) which, as Don said, must have been meant for this all along.  By the time we had finished we had thirteen ingredients mixed together, our hands were both sore and sticky, and we were ready to head back home.  (“13” is a powerful number in Mayan cosmology & ceremony.)  Tata stayed the night at Don and Anna’s so that he and Don could start Don’s first curing ritual at sunrise. Greg and I left.

Don: Tata stayed in our guest room.  I got up a couple times during the night and each time I noticed that the light was on in his room.  The next day, during the ceremony, he said that his sleep had been plagued by bad dreams and he had been up most of the night receiving disturbing visions.

At this point I need to explain that I won’t say very much about the details of the ceremonies Tata did with me.  This is for three reasons.  1) Much of what was discussed is personal.  2) Tata said that he has had health problems associated with the same force that is afflicting me ever since he started working with me, and that his close family have had the same problems since my visit to Guatemala .  The more someone knows about this force / entity, the more vulnerable they are to it.  He especially enjoined me from sharing information with Anna, as she could be most easily affected.  However, I can share what is common to all such ceremonies.  3) Based on his belief that we had been teacher (him) and student (me) in a past life, he started teaching me ritual practice that can’t be shared.  I will try very hard to stick to info that I do not believe was intended to be secret; if I error to much to that side, I apologize.

This first ceremony was for Tata to introduce himself to the spirits of this place – my home, the Bay Area, California – and to the spirits of the people who have lived here, especially of the various native tribes.  This was to be polite and make sure that there would be no resistance to the work he would be doing.  (How would YOU feel if someone came into your home unannounced and starting doing a ritual?)  This was mostly between Tata and the local spirits, and so translation was not needed.  I could understand him well enough for this part of the process.

For this and the following ceremony there would be two fires: a fire for prayers & offerings and a fire for cleansing & banishing.  The cleansing fire was much simpler and was just in the middle of a large dirt circle, without embellishment. 

The offering fire was nearby on a concrete pad and required more setup.  First, Tata established the quarters.  These were Red in the East, Yellow in the South, Black in the West, and White in the North.  (Elemental associations were very much secondary, but were Fire, Water, Earth, and Air.  However, all four elements were represented at each quarter.)  Each quarter was decorated with a candle, a glass goblet of juice, some fruit, and potted flowers, set on the ground – e.g. in the East: a red candle, some cranberry juice, some red apples, and a small potted plant with red flowers.  In the West, dark purple could stand in for Black.
The fire was then built in a metal fire-pit in the center.  This started with a design laid out in sugar.  First, a circle.  Then the circle was quartered – East to West, then North to South.  Then a design particular to the ceremony was drawn with the sugar.  Incense cones – each about 3 inches wide at the base and brought from Guatemala – were laid out over the sugar in the same order, then placed to fill in all of the space.  Then a fire was built over this, using large pieces of split wood to form a cross oriented to the directions and a smaller cross (at “cross-quarters”, if you will) made of “ocote”, or fat-wood, to get things burning.

The circle started with Tata chanting to the Elements in Mayan, and then to the quarters, followed by a recitation of the day-count – “Chol’Qij” in Tata’s K’iche’ or highland Mayan, “Tzolkin” in the more well-known lowland Mayan.  The Chol’Qij is the interlocking of two cycles: the number count of 1 to 13, in which each number has a meaning, and a 20-day count of 20 “nawales” or day-signs.  Each day has a number and a name.  For example today, September 16, 2013, is 13 Toj.  13 – as one might expect in a 13 day system – is a powerful number representing completion.  Toj represents harmony, balance, and equilibrium, especially the balance between Water and Fire, making this both an auspicious day for performing acts of harmony, but also a dangerous day on which one should be especially careful NOT to act out of harmony.  As part of establishing himself as an Ajq’ijab’ – or day-keeper – he recited a full sequence of the number/nawal cycle in Mayan, starting with the number “1” and today’s name “Toj”, so: “1 Toj, 2 Toj, 3 Toj…” etc., ending with “13 Q’anil”, the last number and the nawal before Toj.  With ach count from 1 to 13, Tata counted out 13 cacao beans in his hand and then offered them to the fire.

Many offerings of candles were made to the fire as Tata invoked the many Gods and spirits of his pantheon and addressed the spirits and ancestors of the tribes of California on behalf of me and my ancestors and their Gods and spirits.  Everyone had to agree before we could move forward.  Tata watched the fire closely for signs: What did the fire do and what was he saying when it happened?  Did it spit?  Did the flames lean in a particular direction or spiral?  He also placed eggs in the fire and how they acted were signs that could be interpreted.
After considerable time spent with the offering fire, we moved to the cleansing fire.  This was much simpler, involving primarily wood and hot chili peppers.  Needless to say, the smoke was acrid and made breathing difficult, but the this was the point.  I walked through and around the fire a specific number of times and in particular directions.  All the while Tata observed the behavior of the flames and , once again, eggs to see how things were progressing.
The ceremonies ended with a sort of aura cleansing done with 3 eggs and 3 limes.  The eggs were then cracked into a large bowl of water with the juice of the limes added as well.  This would be left out overnight to be “read” the following morning.  The whole ceremonial process was about two and a half hours long.

Rachael:  I took Tuesday off while Don and Tata began the series of healings which was one of the main reasons that Tata had come to Northern California .  On Tuesday also, it turns out, the local Mayan community had heard that Tata would be up in the area and contacted him, asking him to come and speak with them.  He arranged to visit with them from about three in the afternoon until about seven in the evening when Don’s Coven would be holding  its Full Moon Esbat , which he wanted to attend.  I was torn between my own coven and attending Don’s group, but Tata asked that I be there even though there were a couple of other people who spoke Spanish.  The ritual was great and Tata was well aware of what we were doing and seemed to be very comfortable.  Afterward we went inside to enjoy all of the offerings of food that folks had brought and chat about any number of things before I headed back to my place where Greg and my coven had held ritual earlier that evening.  Once again Tata elected to stay at Don’s in order to be there at sunrise to continue the healing sessions.

Don:  My coven is Gardnerian, so we have an Inner Court , initiate’s form of the ritual and an Outer Court , non-initiates form.  We did the latter with Tata present.  Also, a local woman named Luz who would be acting as translator for Wednesday’s sunrise ceremony had arrived in the afternoon and would be staying at a nearby hotel.  She joined us for the Full Moon.  Rachael, being more familiar with Wiccan ceremony, translated for Tata.
Even though our forms were somewhat different, the essence of what we were doing was familiar enough for Tata, such that he had only a few questions about the ceremony when we sat for Cakes & Wine.

We broke early so those of us getting up for sunrise could get some sleep.
The next morning – Wednesday – Luz arrived before sunrise.  Her hotel was only a few blocks away.  This day’s ceremony would start to get into the depths of the healing process.  For the reasons given above, I can’t say much about this ceremony.  The egg and lemon augury form the day before was not good and indicated the seriousness of the problem.  Tata took great care to make sure that Luz would be protected as he addressed my health issues.
The ceremony was similar in structure to the one the day before except that 1) Tata didn’t have to spend so much time introducing himself, as this had already be done, and 2) much of it consisted of conversations between Tata, me, and the spirits involved.  The two fires were both used and things ended with the same egg and lemon augury process.  This ceremony was a little shorter – about two hours.  Tata said that the ceremony on Thursday could start later.  Luz had to return home, so Rachael would translate.  The rest of the day was free and Tata planned to spend it with Rachael.

Rachael:  On Wednesday I had planned to swing by and pick up Tata to take him to the Redwoods after the ritual.  I had to go to work for a couple of hours in San Francisco and then we headed for the big trees. This is a relatively new growth forest as Redwoods go and the trees are mostly juveniles with a few massive elders sprinkled in between them, but he was deeply impressed never having seen anything of this size and height before. He was deeply awed to find trees that he could actually stand inside of and was overcome by their age. 
On Wednesday evening he asked to come back to my house where he said that he was able to sleep better.  Mainly I think, because my son’s dog insisted on sleeping with him.  Shadow is a very small something or other that includes Chihuahua . He is a major cuddle slut and will lie with anyone who is in that bed. He will even abandon my son, who had to sleep on the couch. That dog is many things, but a fool he is not.  He knows where the softest bed with the most space is.  I think it helped Tata feel a bit less alone.  I’m sure that the dog helped him ground, well that dog, my dog and my cat.  Fortunately it is a very large bed.

What I also discovered is that they expected me to help translate for the next day’s healing ritual, even knowing how I really hate that.  So up we got and over to Don’s at “oh my Goddess its early hours”.  Don was waiting for us.  The first thing that Tata did was direct me to freshen up the ritual space with fresh water in those Dollar store crystal goblets, at each direction, Heaven, and Earth, and make certain that the fire circle fruit and flowers were in place and the fire offerings were set out.  Once everything was ready he set the fire and lit all of the candles. The fire he marked off in quarters with sugar and added an entire package of chocolate, and bags of each of the cookies along with generous helpings of other food and wood. I was so focused on this process that I never noticed that Tata somehow managed to lay out the back yard at Don’s in the wrong directions and Don has worried ever since about the effectiveness of his healing rituals but his hand is steady as a rock and the only problem that he is currently having is that there is a bit of numbness in part of his thumb and forefinger.

Once that was done he fetched a bowl of water in which floated three limes and three eggs.  The eggs were floating around in the water but otherwise seemed to be pretty much together though the lime juice had cooked part of the whites.  This was to be an indication of how Don’s healing was progressing. Because the limes were floating separate from the eggs (raw eggs by the way) he said that progress had been made and it was a good sign that the limes were floating as well.  He gathered the limes carefully using a bag over his hand to protect it and encapsulate the limes at the same time turning the bag inside out around the limes once he had them all. The water and eggs he dumped into the garden where they could soak in and feed the plants. The limes were tossed carefully into the trash for pick up.

Then the ritual began in earnest.  The fire was lit and Tata prayed to it for the healing that Don needed while scrying within to see what the fire had to say this morning.  During this he placed three raw eggs, still in the shell, into the fire. Two he placed together and a third further down into the fire.  For some reason, Don leaned over and said, “that egg is yours”.  It made no sense to me and as I was there only to translate I said nothing trying to lose myself in the translation. 

At last Tata began to explain what the fire had told him.  It was about how everything was progressing as well as could be with Don’s arm but that Anna would be a great help in his healing as well and that the fire spirits would help her because she, through her family, had known great pain in the past.  Just at this point as I finished translating that, the third egg – “mine” – exploded all over me covering me in baked egg.   Talk about egg on my face… Tata was laughing gently and telling me not to be afraid or to worry; it was ok, as he picked egg out of my hair.  The fire, he explained, was just asking me what I was doing there.  Had it not wanted me the egg would have burned me. He then proceeded to tell me all kinds of horror stories about being burned by exploding eggs.

After this Tata announced that it was time for the curing fire.  In this fire he placed, not all of the sweet things of the other fire but purgatives such as whole chilies, bay leaves and Laurel leaves.  Have you ever stood in the smoke of a fire fed by chilies? Pure joy, let me tell you, and all I had to do was stand to the side.  Don had to cross and re-cross that fire, once it was high enough, as he put it, to burn his…um…crotch.  By the time the ritual was done Don and I were both coughing up a storm and could hardly breathe through the caustic fug.  Tata was very satisfied.

“Now”, he assured me, “we are near the end”.  He sent me for a clean bowl of water and then cut three more limes cross ways and put them in the water and then three raw eggs were added.  “Now” he said, “we’ll see what they have to say tomorrow.” 
It was now eleven and I was starved, neither Tata nor I having eaten prior to ritual. I tell you those animal crackers were looking pretty good by that point.  Don took us to breakfast at a place he likes and we talked for almost an hour over breakfast about esoteric topics which Don may better recall.  I was struggling so hard to translate all of these ideas that the conversation in general did not stay with me.  I will swear on anything you like that Don does little more than sit around thinking up conversations that will call for the largest amount of really big words that he can think up. To add insult to injury, tiny pieces of egg kept dropping into my plate and onto my lap. Tata returned home with me and we spent the rest of the day resting.

(Don: We were just comparing notes on Wiccan and Mayan theology and cosmology.  It wasn’t that esoteric a conversation, under the circumstances, but it certainly wasn’t using a vocabulary that Rachael would have picked up when she learned Spanish.  I though she did admirably.)

Rachael:  On Friday morning Greg left for a long planned camping trip and we set out for Don’s early to see what the eggs and lime had to say and to see whether another ritual was necessary.  When we looked out on the back yard it was to discover that, unlike the two days prior, the squirrels, raccoons, and many species of bird were having a field day with the ritual items which had been left to delineate the space.  “Well”, I said to Don and Tata, “the animals think that we’re done at any rate”.  Tata agreed but wanted to look at the water to see what it had to say.  “What do you see” he wanted to know.  Both Don and I saw that the limes were floating completely free of the eggs and that the eggs were pretty much together in the bottom of the water.  Also, the egg yolks had stayed intact rather than making the water cloudy as on previous days.  We thought that this was a good omen and so I said to Tata.  He agreed absolutely and pronounced the animals correct, that there was no need for further curing rituals during this trip. He told Don that the next step would be a purging ritual.  Oh boy, more chilies and exploding eggs.  Actually it did turn out to involve explosives as it happens… real ones.  For the final ritual Don will once again have to travel to Guatemala (mainly because you can’t get ritual explosives around here).  Tata then hastened to assure me that my translation was fine and that I had done very well, which now has me worried that he plans for me to go down and get involved in something to do with Don and gunpowder in the outback of Guatemala .

Don:  Tata said that the ceremonies needed to be followed up with 1) Specific directions for a copper armband for my left arm.  This was so similar to a traditional Gardnerian priest’s armband that I asked if I could add to the design to make it serve dual purpose.  Tata consulted his oracles who said “Absolutely!”  2) Six quart jars of a tincture of datura flowers in alcohol to rub on my arms at night with a specific visualization and chant.  3) A specific ritual to be performed as the sun rises on each Aq’ab’al day (the nawal of my birth) every 20 days.

Rachael:  Tata stayed with Don for the day.  Don went out and did yet more ritual shopping in preparation for Sunday while Tata rested and then prepared for some friends to come and pick him up to stay with them for the evening.  They were planning a major ritual, B’aqtun eight, and wanted “Tata Polo” to be a part of it. If it seems to you as though we were forever shopping for ritual necessities, you are not alone. It did to us too. He explained that when one was up here one could not reasonably rely upon just everything that one was used to have on hand being available, and one had to learn to make do, (apparently with anything and everything else}.
My son also left early on Friday taking both of the dogs with him as Greg and I had to be away from home twice in the next two weeks, so I was really more alone in the house than I was used to.  The cat was missing the dogs too and crawled in bed with me which she never does and thus we fell asleep only to be awakened at four in the morning by my phone.  Needless to say panic shot through me.  Was my son in the hospital with seizures?  Had something happened to Greg on the road? I answered the phone to find Tata on the other end.  He had left the suite case containing all of the items he had hoped to sell at Don’s house.  Would I kindly remember to bring it with me when I came to the ritual in the morning? Oh by the way it started at eight.
Don had called me that night before to tell me that the irritation from the chili power  smoke had gotten worse and he was thoroughly congested and feeling like… not well enough to go to a ritual.  Now I had to waken him and Anna on her day off at seven in the morning to get a suitcase and go to a ritual that I hadn’t been planning on attending.

Three hours in the sun did nothing much for me, or my complexion, though the ritual was really great!  Apparently the San Francisco Mayan group is heavily into Hollywood costuming and had created some massively beautiful costuming that was something between Mayan and Aztec, Hollywood and over the top.   While it had been cold and overcast in the morning by the time the ritual started the sun was out and it was warm, though not uncomfortably so.   Like almost all of the older women there I took my shawl and folded it to place it on top of my head to shade my face and eyes but it didn’t help.  As of this writing my forehead, nose and upper cheeks are literally bright red and I look ridiculous. 

This ritual was assisted by Native American drummers who played a Sun Dance song that I recognized and a Navajo song that I also recognized and a couple more.  The ritual was basically in this order:
1.       Participating Elders, with dancers behind them, file into the circle with censors, each quarter couple peeling off at their direction. (The directions were delineated by palm fronds set into the ground and tied at the tops to form a lovely quarter arch or portal in which each couple stood.)
2.      Elder speaks explaining the holiday’s importance (repeated in English)
3.      Tata speaks explaining the importance of the fact that these folks have kept the ceremonies. (also translated into English)
4.      *Call to the four directions,
5.      Native American drummers drum and sing a song
6.      Elder speaks to the fire asking for a vision for the community
7.      Pour five pounds of sugar on the fire from different directions
8.      All those in costume dance
9.      Rinse and repeat for each direction from *.
10.  Offerings - Here each individual offers to the fire.  We were asked to offer at one of the four directions.

The priest was a delightful little guy, literally. He came to about my chin.  He kept saying now we are at the center of the ritual.  I kept wondering if we would get past it, but we finally got to announcements and then the soak and smoke.

You may remember that I told you about the smudging in Guatemala .  Nothing has changed.  There were a man and woman in each of the directions keeping the copal going during the entire ceremony and, of course the twenty pounds of burning sugar as well as the wax from all of the candles offered.

Then each person was smudged…in thick smoke.  After that each person was soaked.  I mean soaked here, not sprinkled. They had a five gallon bucket full of water, Florida water, and other floral fragrances which were being applied very liberally, as in dripping down my head and into my eyes, a perfect cure for a very sunburned face.

A lengthy explanation of the specific celebration followed along with an explanation of why it was being held on a Saturday rather than a week day as it should normally have been in order that those who worked could attend as well, thanks to the creator that Tata Polo could be there in attendance, and it was over.  I beat feet to the shade.  I was about to leave when Tata informed me that he would be going with me but please to wait just a bit.  I was immediately fed and people lined up to thank me for caring for Tata.  Many pictures followed, most of which I took so that the community could all be in them and then they all insisted that I be in at least one of them and of course everyone that had a camera wanted that shot too.  I was invited to return to other celebrations and names and numbers were exchanged as well as the location of our own ritual the next day.  I was in bad shape by the time I got Tata loaded into the truck and we headed home. 

We crashed and when I got up I made a fruit smoothie for each of us which, by that time I felt like smearing all over my face. I didn’t feel like cooking at all and Tata suggested that we go out.  He said that he really liked Chinese food so I took him to the best restaurant in town at which one of my tenants just happens to be a chef and he immediately asked if they had sushi.  Turns out that what he really wanted was Japanese food.  My friend however was extra attentive to us and helped him choose a Hunan plate with prawns and veggies with garlic. He ordered a white wine which my friend also suggested and he was very happy over all. We spent a long and casual time over dinner and then he surprised me by insisting on paying.  He was a very generous tipper too!  Tata is a walking contradiction. In many ways he is very cosmopolitan and in others he is missing huge amounts of information. He knows what wines to order with fish or red meat but hadn’t been aware that DNA studies could tell you where you come from and Quantum Physics is as good as science fiction to him.

We retired early and tried to sleep in a bit on Sunday but Tata’s phone was ringing by 8AM and I gave up and went down to make breakfast.  Tata’s phone rings almost constantly unless he mutes it or turns it off.  So many people call him for advice, healing, or as a spiritual advisor, that I’m surprised he gets much done at all.  He is a very patient person, very full of good sound advice.  During his time with me I came to respect him more and more as a person of substance.  

We had been talking of what makes a good marriage and I told him that Greg is usually in my head and can be a real pest if he doesn’t hear from me or gets worried, and he can drive me crazy.  I believe that I told you in my report from Guatemala that my phone did not work as advertised and that I could not find a burner.  I was going crazy trying to find a way to contact Greg.  Tata told me that this was really the first time he recognized me as a person.  He realized what was happening and loaned me his phone.  I certainly remember that as he told me to take care of Greg and not to worry about the time or cost.

When everything was in place we left to drive over to the site of the talk and ritual.  When almost there, Tata suddenly became very quiet and stared straight ahead.  Then he turned to me and said, “There is a spirit in the car with us.  He says that he is of this place from long ago. He is a young man and he says that when we need him he will help us.  He says that he will keep a watch and help you in the future as well.” That seemed to be all he could say on the matter.  He said that was all that he could understand.

Don:  Sunday was the day for our People of the Earth event at the Fellowship of Humanity hall in Oakland CA .  It had an indoor space where we could prepare and eat food and an outdoor garden where we could have a fire and a ritual.  This was our first “invitation only” event.  I think attendance suffered because I was out of town at CoG’s MerryMeet at a crucial time leading up to this event, but even so we ended up with about 40 people representing 16 Pagan organizations (including Afro-diasporic, Heathen, Indigenous, Pagan, and Wiccan).  A half-dozen people from Tata’s Mayan ceremony the day before also came to this gathering.  Luz was back to translate for Tata.

The afternoon started with a brief opening ceremony by Tata.  After that, he gave some basic background about Mayan spirituality and about the Mayan system of counting days and years.  Then he got into the message he wanted to share with the Elders who had come, the message about the time of the current B’aqtun.  In brief, while the Mayan calendar obviously didn’t end last December, it’s largest cycle of time – 5,126 years – DID return to its starting point and start over again.  This means that last Winter Solstice (2012) the first recorded age of humanity on Earth came to an end and the next one began.  Through somewhat complex day-counts and Mayan number systems, it relates to the two large phases in a person’s life… In the first phase each person focuses on themselves and then on their own immediate offspring & family, and then as they get older and mature each person looks outwards and thinks about the needs of the wider world.  In other words, humanity has passed through its “me” phase and has now entered its “us” phase. 

In the grand scheme of things, there will have been billions of people who lived and died in the first age; and there will possibly be trillions of people who live and die in the second age, but there is only a relative handful of us who have lived in both ages.  As such, as spiritual practitioners who have devoted our lives to living in a right relationship with Mother Earth, it falls to US to be the spiritual midwives of this new age, to make sure that the world starts off on the right path.


After this, we broke for supper and discussion, then returned to the circle for a ceremony addressing the spirits and the ancestors and asking their help in aligning all of us with the great work and great responsibility that lay before us.  The ceremony followed the same pattern as the three leading up to it, but was more elaborate, with more flowers, colored banners in the directions, etc.  There was some resistance on the part of the local spirits to having all of us “foreigners”, including Tata, doing ceremony on their sacred land, but all was smoothed over.  The local spirits especially appreciated the fact that most of those who had come to this event were women, as “the energy of the mothers” was especially needed now.

Late in the ceremony, each person had the opportunity to bring make their own offering to the central fire and request guidance and assistance.  This went on for some time, as each person had to circumambulate a large circle to get to the point of making offerings and then return to their seat before the next person could of, but indigenous ceremonies tend to be as long as it takes for each person to have enough time for what they need.

Before we closed, Tata invited folks to share what was in their hearts.  Many people spoke and were appreciative of Tata’s coming and of the attendance by our Mayan brothers and sisters.  For their part, the Mayans were appreciative to the point of tears.  Some said that they could never have imagined being in a Mayan ceremony in the United States led by a Mayan Elder, with Euro-Americans attending as equals.  Each Mayan there said that they hoped that we would have more opportunities to share like this in the future.  (We’ll make a point of more outreach to the local Mayan community now that we have these connections.)
After a long cleanup, everyone went home.  Tata stayed at Rachael’s since she would be driving him to the airport in the morning, but I would be going with them.
                                For more photos of this event please see:

Rachael:  On the way home Tata shared a few things that he had not wanted to share with the general group.  First he said that he had received word that the women at the ritual would serve a special purpose but he could not figure out any more about what that meant.  (That part he had shared.) Then he said that many ancient spirits had gathered around him demanding to know what he was doing there.  He said that he was very afraid but then the spirit that had appeared earlier in the car came forward and spoke with them for a long time explaining that we were there to help and that we worshiped the Mother and would do no harm.  He explained that we were seeking to heal the Earth.  This apparently appeased the spirits and they allowed us to go in peace with a blessing of sorts to do well upon the Earth.

Don: So… My hand is neither shaking nor in pain.  My neurologist and pain specialist are mystified, but are taking copious notes.  I will see Tata again soon, and then complete the process with a visit to another sacred site in Guatemala .  It’s a complicated, ongoing process, but one I need to undergo if I am to fulfill my own role in midwifing the next age.

Thanks & Blessed Be,
Don & Rachael