Dispatch from Maya Land #5 + Reflections
I know it’s been a while since the last dispatch, and I’ve since returned to the US and my family recently joined me. We had some incredible meetings, travels and planning for Saq’ Be’ since the last post:
We traveled to San Juan la Laguna, a town that has built its reputation with a plethora of weaving cooperatives, medicine cooperatives and painting galleries. We began with a visit to the Ix Cacao women’s weaving cooperative, where they utilize traditional and natural processes to spin, dye and weave local cotton. We also visited a medicinal plant cooperative, that featured a garden with a number of plants that are used for medicinal purposes, as well as a collection of teas, tinctures and other items. The women running the center indicated that they have curanderas, midwives and hueseras (that work with bones) all on call. The town also featured numerous murals and the galleries were filled with themes of Maya culture and tradition. In this town, it was easy to have a felt experience of the way that the Maya tradition so fully integrates into identity and the projects that carry forward.
We were once again joined by Lina and her other daughter, as we journeyed to perform a ceremony in the altar of Nimaj Jay, a cave overlooking lake Attitlan. This was, of course, a very special place and there were many ceremonies taking place the day that we arrived. Some of the ceremonies used whole cans of chiles and even kinds of fireworks, which isn’t common, but are used to deal with serious conditions.
Towards the end of my time in Guatemala, we had the good fortune to spend time with Don Domingo Sosa, Former Director of Academy of Mayan Languages, linguist and Tzu’tu’jil storyteller. We did a Facebook live video with don Domingo, where he told a captivating story about nawalism – a man that would sneak out at night and turn into his nawal (animal). We also filmed Don Domingo sharing numerous other stories, including traditional names for places around Attitlan (Attitlan and many of the other names are actually Nahuatl language, brought from the Spaniards), the nawal of the lake and much more.
We first travelled to Guatemala to be with the Maya tradition in the late 90’s. We are fortunate to have had this opportunity to return here for the past few months. Speaking personally, it was a strong, innate calling that drove me to connect with this tradition, not to elevate myself above others, but to be able to live more fully into the responsibility of elevating those around me. With about 20 years of this journey, my appreciation for the depth and practicality brought forth by the Maya tradition for us to elevate each other and to restore a deeper sense of harmony in the world continues to grow. It is clear that the era we are in now is no less significant, and perhaps in magnitude of order even more so, that in it was in those earlier days. The opportunity and responsibility for Saq’ Be’ to bring this knowledge and wisdom into the modern world in a deeply integrative way while continuing to nourish its roots is a calling that has not strayed in all this time. As always, it will no doubt take time to integrate and make meaning of this latest experience – of the encounters, ceremonies, teachings, people and land. Below are a few musings that have landed in these early days:
The weaving of culture and tradition into every aspect of life for the Maya people is incredibly evident. In fact, it is so common, that I am sure many people miss it as a fish misses the water they swim in. Threads of colonization, globalization, religious oppression and indoctrination have not burned the fabric of this culture, rather they have often somehow found their way to be woven in and make it stronger.
That ability to weave culturally seems in part due to a process I’d describe as slow integration, which aligns more with the normal speed of change (outside of outlier events) in the natural world. This contrasts with a modern culture fixated upon rapid innovation. I think the point of confluence in these two world views is a rich place of opportunity.
We were once again reminded about how depths to which the knowledge of the Maya tradition reaches. It is rooted in its own form of science, a particular lens into how the universe works, grounded in a mathematical understanding. It is often the role of the Ajq’ij and others to bring this level of deep understanding of increasing levels of complexity into the accessibility of simplicity for others. Even amongst Ajq’ij, there are varying depths of knowledge, yet they meet at a certain point, whether or not the those depths have been plumbed by an individual. For example, Don Pedro explained some of the mathematical reasoning behind the use of certain carriers for the years. There is a robust debate amongst Ajq’ij about which carriers should be used (some consider that there was a change of carriers a few years ago). Yet outside of those that are considered to specialize as calendarists, other Ajq’ij are able to carry on and fulfill their duties, accepting one argument or the other. It is in the collective that the fullness of a tradition is held. Without rootedness, beliefs and practices risk becoming superstition, corruptible in deviating from a deeper cosmological understanding.
It was also interesting to note that on several occasions, we explored not only the calendar of life (cholq’ij), but the lesser known calendar of death. This latter calendar represents a part of a natural cycle that produces the ground upon which new life can be formed. Yet in our modern society, we desperately try to subvert this cycle, whether it is in developing artificial means to prolong individual life (for those that can afford access) or in our societies and civilizations, failing to accept an era at its end so that it may give rise to what is to follow. I believe we are in such a moment in terms of colonial civilization, where it has been unnaturally prolonged to the detriment of allowing the growth of our next way of inhabiting the earth as humans. I am not advocating for destruction in any form, but perhaps with a deeper recognition of the profundity of transformation we find ourselves within, we may better steward the next evolutionary cycle for humanity and our planet.