On a Journey of New Journeys
Come with me on an adventure. Back in time, to another place, a different space.
As we take off, imagine our craft, a P52 Mustang "Diamondback". This happens to be the theme of my most recent commission, one that I completed just before taking off in December and January for sunnier skies. Once again, the curious and beautiful thread of my own story has appeared before me in the form of this commission. Andrew, my client, wanted to give something very unique and unusual to a generous friend who flew Andrew's mother from Michigan to Idaho and back in this plane to visit with Andrew and his family. When he approached me last year about the possibility of creating this piece for his friend, Andrew wasn't sure if antique airplanes were of any interest to me.
Haha! In fact, the challenge of translating the plane's mechanical precision was a good one. Working out the geometry of the airplane's design and translating that into colored glass pieces, I was then free to play with the clouds and their opportunity for creative expression.
I really enjoyed exploring the complementary nature of structure and fluidity, metal flying through the clouds, and creating the illusions of matter and space from paint and colored glass, and light.
This fun project was the perfect animator for my journey to "The Land of Eternal Spring". I can't help but feel that I somehow "cheated" winter by heading south just as the snow began to fall in Idaho. Then again, I wouldn't be the first and only snowbird to leave the snowy Rocky Mountains for a warmer climate.
The clouds I imagined for the mosaic light painting of the P52 Mustang gave way to the clouds awaiting me in Guatemala, clouds that spark my imagination, and my gratitude, in Guatemala.
Welcome Home. Arriving again in Guatemala. The original name of Guatemala was Quauhtlemallan, which means 'place of many trees' in Nahuatl. Curious that only after 19 years of coming and going to this country do I make the connection to the name Boise, which was similarly named for the abundance of trees "Les Bois" according to French Fur trappers, the first Europeans to venture into the area in the colonial times. Leaving home to come home, from one land of trees to another.
My friend, Felipe, was my host upon arrival. Together we visited the ancient Mayan ruins of Kaminaljuyu, a city populated by an estimated 1 million people who lived in this valley when a large lake, Miraflores, dominated the cityscape. Kaminaljuyu was "The City of the Dead", a curious title for this place which is now a protected nature and archeological park.
Kaminaljuyu has many more of the trees for which this land was named. In a quiet suburban neighborhood, a respite from the chaos and traffic all around, Kaminaljyju gave me a different perspective on this capital city, one that I have largely avoided in the past. A sense of peace. A sense of rest. What a treat to discover. So many different types of trees made us wonder how so many varieties came to be planted in one place? Was it the wind? The ancestors, spirits of the dead for which this place gets its name?
Kaminaljuyu is also an important place for practioners of traditional Mayan spirituality to practice fire ceremony. I was intrigued to find so many altars for several Ajq'ijab to do ceremonies at once; the park guardian informed us that on important days, the many sites are not enough to accomodate all that wish to do ceremony.
Mayan Fire Ceremony has been performed here openly since the Peace Accords were signed in 1996. The site had previously been a plantation since colonial times, but most certainly ceremonies were performed here by the ancient peoples. Most of the temples and buildings that existed here in pre-conquest times are still covered over with vegetation and trees. They look like "hills", but they are actually man-made! Felipe and I enjoyed puzzling over the stepped pyramid that has been uncovered, wondering about the mysterious channels for water under the temple steps. We later learned that in Kaminaljuyu's height, a whole chain or "snake" of ceremony sites were scattered from Kaminaljuyu "at the head of the serpent" to Santa Catarina Pinula, some 8 miles to the southeast.
Next stop:; Chuwila'
More blue skies, blue corn tortillas, and a misty mysticism permeates Chichicastenango essence. Magic so thick you can taste it.
After a few days in the capital waiting for my luggage to arrive, I headed to Chichicastenango in the Quiche department, north of Lake Atitlan. This place, Chuwila in the local dialect, has had a mysterious quality since I first visited many years ago. "Chichi" the site of a famous market that takes place in the city on Thursdays and Sundays. On those days the narrow streets swell with vendors from all over, bringing their weaving, handcrafts, clothing shoes, housewares and more to sell. Many shopkeepers from Guatemala and abroad come here to source their products. It's a frenzy of activity with bewildered tourists woven into the steady stream of buyers and sellers.
I've come to Chichi to work with and learn from my teachers, Juan and Miguel Leon Cortez. These twin brothers have been guiding my growth, education and development through a series of teachings, teachers, and ceremonies that will prepare me to serve others as an Ajq'ij or "keeper of the days" in the Quiche Maya tradition. Through a series of ceremonies for the twenty sacred energies of the Cholq'ij "calendar", I am attaining a precious set of powers, strengths, abilities, and awareness that are creating a whole new "me".
The first ceremony on this trip was one for Waxjaqib Batz. This is the day we celebrate the new 260-dat "year" in the Cholq'ij count of days. Juan and Miguel orchestrated a beautiful ceremony. They were accompanied by Nana Sandra, who cleansed us all with tobacco smoke before the ceremony. Their marimba and a drum were hauled up the hill to this site which they call "I'x Balam" --roughly translated as "Divine Feminine Jaguar". We were accompanied by their bother Mario, also an Ajq;ij, and members of their community organization, Itzaj.
My dear friends, Robin and Elizabeth, came up for the day from Panajachel to join us in the celebrations. Elizabeth brought her ukelele and songs to the ceremony, a beautiful renewal of this tradition. Many hundreds of years of oppression has kept these kinds of celebrations more "quiet", but this fiesta was everything but silent. Nana Sandra instructed us to dance, to build the energy, and to animate and energize the ceremony, playing music and singing to express and elevate our gratitude offering. It was great fun!
Towards the end of the ceremony, I was called forth and acknowledged for the progress and growth of my authority as a day-keeper. I was presented the staff used to move the fire, and for the first time, I assisted in "opening" the energies and wisdom of the Four Cardinal Directions for all those present. A powerful ritual that is hard to put into words. An incredibly powerful affirmation of my own growth, wisdom, and authority.
After celebrating the "new year" in Chichi, I made my way to my old home on the shores of Lake Atitlan where San Pedro La Laguna welcomed me home like never before.
I spent my time going between Chichi and San Pedro, returning to 'Chuwila' to honor the power of gratitude, Toj, giving thanks for so much that I truly felt my heart ache a little bit afterward as I felt it expand to accomodate my expanded sense of gratitude. We were joined in this ceremony by Tata Vicente Stanislau, an Elder of 70 years who came to Chichi to celebrate the town fiesta and concurrent solstice celebrations on December 21.
We kindled a special friendship, and Tata Vicente has become one of the many teachers that Juan and Miguel promised I would have at the outset of "walking me" towards my own spiritual path and gifts. A gentle and generous teacher at heart, Vicente was led to the Mayan spiritual tradition by his wife who was raised in the traditions by her family. The generous spirit of this tradition is embodied in Vicente's daily photos and voice messages which he continues to send me each day to encourage me in my growth, development, and awareness.
Tata Vicente has taught me many valuable lessons. First, he demonstrates how to encourage, correct and call out what I see in a gentle, non-conflictive way. I've had the opportunity to receive the gentlest but most direct criticisms from him. I've learned how to engage others in ceremony, to increase group participation, from him. He models humility, and he speaks his mind with respect. Above all, he showed me how to develop my own prayer, my dialogue with the divine, and to find and address the divinity in the world all around us: in the magic and mysteries of nature, the subtle shifts of the sun and the moon as they vary their travels across the night sky, in Mother Lake Atitlan, and in the clouds.
There they are again, the clouds, magic clouds, the hand of God, the ears and eyes of the Ancestors, reaching out to us, hoping we will listen to their messages. Tata Vicente taught me to deepen my relationship with the clouds through the joy of prayer, the joy of dialoging with the Heart of Heaven and the Heart of Mother Earth. Each time we walked across town, he announced the majesty of the Creator all around us. Appreciation and acknowledgement: isn't that what we all want? Doesn't the Creator and Mother Earth desire the same? Don't the Ancestors want us to acknowledge them, not to be thanked, but to open us to receive the blessings of their power, protection and guidance? This is the awareness that Tata Stansilau has encouraged in me.
When we celebrated Solstice with a ceremony on December 21, Tata Vicente illuminated us to the powerful energy and lesson for us that the winter sun holds for us. Connecting deeply with the Sun on the shortest day of the year opened me to a powerful charging of my own energy. Afterwards, I feel so much more grounded, connected to the Sun, and the Moon, and my own personal power and certainty, recharging my own energy with the the mystical and magical power of sunlight in darkness.
All of Chichicastenango becomes more vibrant and alive than usual during this time when the town "feria", the feast of Santo Tomas, its patron saint, is celebrated. But the real celebration is for the power of Solstice. Like a light bulb turning "on", I became enlightened alongside my friends with music and incense smoke weaving their magic into the natural world around us.
The town really celebrates this holiday. Over a week's time there are here are multiple live music stages with ongoing performances--often weaving their songs over high-powered loudspeakers, into the mix of traditional masked dances, processions of feather-covered saints, and ancient rituals like "Palo Volador". A carnival with rides and streets packed with goods to buy and goodies to try make this an especially impressive show of culture and tradition, perhaps the "best" in Guatemala.
If you have the opportunity and interest, I highly recommend Chichicastenango for its annual town fair, the week around December 21 every year.
After the incredibly intense and beautiful Solstice celebrations in Chichi, Christmas in San Pedro was delightfully quiet and intimate, spent with my friend Nancy and her friends who work together with her in a community organization called Taa Piit. This non-profit dedicates itself to teaching young people about ecology, connecting to Mother Earth, and renewing the wisdom of the Ancestor Maya in the young people of San Pedro
With Tata Vicente and Tata Miguel, we celebrated a fire ceremony with friends in Panajachel on the opposite side of the lake. This ceremony was to give thanks to Imox, the spirit of water and our senses. This was a very "public" ceremony we did on the shores of Atitlan; we invited the casual onlookers to join us; everyone has a role to play in caring for our most precious resource here: the sacred waters of Lake Atitlan.
The next morning we crossed the lake with Tata Vicente, his daughter, Alejandra, and Nathalia, his grandaughter, to spend the New Year in San Pedro. Vicente is a native of Chinique, QUiche, but has made his life and raised his family in Guatemala CIty as a gardener.
He loved being at Nancy's Hummingbird Heaven where we celebrated January 1st with a ceremony in her garden.
Vicente and his family had never visited San Pedro until now. It was great fun showing them around, seeing the new murals that have been painted by local artists and the new Mirador above town with views and more local art. They had such a good time and felt so "at home" they stayed an extra night to soak up the energy that draws people from all around the globe to "The Most Beautiful Lake in the World". The magnificence of this place is stunning; Tata Vicente's appreciation for the glory of it all was equally stunning, as these photos express what words cannot.
The new year has brought many changes to my consciouness and awareness. Through an ongoing experience with the fire ceremony, I've been deepening my sensibility, my connection to my ancestors, my health, healing, and equilibrium in life. I've begun to discover the real healing properties of the fire ceremony, and the healing, holistic nature of the Ancient Mayan world view.
Through their community organization, Itzat, Tata Juan and Tata Miguel gave me the opportunity to participate in a couple of educational workshops presented to the youth in their project. I had the grand opportunity to learn about the Mayan writing system, the "mother language" of the Mayan dialects spoken today, how to decifer and write using this fascinating and beautiful system of writing. Walter Paz Joj, an artist from Panajachel, lead us on a journey of discovery and of co-creation, showing us all how to engage with and express ourselves with these ancient characters. Walter is an accomplished artist in this respect, with a distinct, fluid and beautiful style all of his own.
In another workshop, Tata Isaias Mendoza came from Lake Atitlan to teach a two-day class in Mayan Cosmology. Tat Isaias brings a wisdom of Cacao medicine and a joyful, song-filled voice to his generous teachings about the intellectual underpinnings of the Mayan world-view, while also expressing the spirit of connection to the Earth and all of Her creatures, and the joy he feels practicing his faith. I was so delighted by his messages of wholeness, oneness, and also of honoring the individual uniqueness in each of us. I was so uplifted!!!
These experiences, and many others, have provoked some incredibly powerful shifts and changes in me, changes that have necessitated quiet, reflective time spent absorbing these changes. When we make changes, even positive ones, in our thinking, habits, and behavior, we create a "new world" to navigate. This, I realize, is why most of us put off making the changes we've been "thinking about" for some time. In my case, the changes I've welcomed have had many positive effects to my general wellbeing,--emotionally, physically, mentally and spiritually. Because of this, I am beginning to make my own art again, taking time to write down this and other "stories" that percolate through me. I'm discovering my artistic self in a more focussed way, beginning to create for myself the artistic challenges I need, rather than having my clients select those for me.
What I have realized through my life experience and my spiritual training thus far is a stronger sense of self, a deeper sense of home, of being "at home" with myself. My 20-year Pilgrimage to the Sea, and my ultimate training as a Mayan Day-keeper have given me the tools, the power, and the balance to begin to create a new life for myself, a life after COVID, a life with a stronger sense of self, and purpose, and of "home" which I now recognize powers and gives order to all of my current and future journeys.
The Mayan fire ceremony is itself, a journey. The Mayan spiritual tradition is also, a journey, a "camino" of rich personal growth. So it is that I have embarked on a Journey of Many Journeys. I'm immensely grateful to share these journeys with you. There are many more beautiful ceremonies, both past and future, more than time and space allow. Thanks for joining me on these adventures!