archaeology, life, Mayan Culture, mythology, philosophy, research, spirituality, story, writing

Travels in the Mayan Yucatan

This is the fifth in a series of articles that explores the philosophic and spiritual concepts of the Classic Maya. What did these intelligent people believe about themselves, life and the gods, and how did those ideas influence the way they lived? This article will explore my favorite place, Isla Mujeras, The Island of Women, and some of my favorite stories.

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 The Island is dedicated to the Great Goddess Ixchel, co-creator of life.

Half an hour from Cancun, I caught the ferry to the island. Perched precariously on the prow of the rickety weather beaten ferry, I leaned over the edge captivated by the unbelievably blue color of the water. The landing at Puerto Juarez disappeared behind as the long strip of Isla Mujeras slowly moved toward us. The chugging of the engine drowned out all but the high cry of an occasional bird overhead.

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The town’s buildings; painted bright red, orange, purple and yellow, rose up like gifts the sea offered to the sky.  So perfectly did the sky and sea reflect one another that the thin line between them was the only differentiating factor; that, and the occasional puff of white cloud passing by.

For two thousand years Mayan women have made the pilgrimage to Isla Mujeras (Island of Women). They’ve come with offerings –clay statues, cocoa beans, turquoise, hand woven objects, and the now rare feather of the Quetzal bird, a most prized object — to give to the great mother goddess Ixchel in thanks for what She’d given them and prayers for what they lacked.
Rowing across the turquoise water from the mainland would have taken two hours or more. Slowly Ixchel’s temple would become visible at the south end of the island; three buildings of limestone blocks fit snugly together, hunkered down close to the earth for protection from the hurricane winds that regularly flatten anything with height. Soft trade winds would now ruffle the warm air that welcomed the women to this gentle land.

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When I’d heard about the island on a previous trip to study the Maya ruins of the Yucatan peninsula of Mexico, my imagination was captivated. I wondered what was in the women’s hearts when they made such a journey and why this particular island had been chosen for a sacred site.  I’d learned from Mayanologists that temple areas were built where the diviners of their religion perceived sources of particular power.
When the Spanish first came to the island, they discovered hundreds of female statues among the buildings of the temple. When they came to the town they found only women and children. The men were out fishing. For that reason they named the island, “Isla Mujeras.”

Set at the base of the village, the landing — where several other boats of varying sizes and shapes were tied up — jutted out to meet us. Beside the beach in either direction, a myriad of small boats bobbed in the turquoise water beside palapa style buildings planted in the white sand.
A flock of taxi drivers descended on me as I made my way through the crowd on the pier to the street. The scent of fish, hot tortillas, beer, and suntan lotion mixed deliciously with the salt-sea breeze as I was whisked away the five blocks to the hotel.

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Mayan woman selling her wares

Hotel Nabalam –meaning the jaguar’s house — was at the north end with nothing but a wide, white sand beach and shallow, lake-still water for as far as you can see. Attractive low buildings were covered in bougainvillea surrounded by tropical gardens dotted with palapas and bright colored hammocks that swung leisurely in the breeze.

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Nabalam Hotel

Late in the day  when it was cool enough to venture out,  I called a taxi to go to the south end, to the site of Ixchel’s temple. The taxi driver dodged the village traffic deftly and soon we were in new territory on a road that ran the length of the island on the west side. Where the pavement ended a dirt-rock road meandered drunkenly through low brush to the lighthouse where I got out of the taxi to walk. A trail led over rocky terrain above jagged high cliffs to a small structure built in the place of the temple to mark the spot.

 

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Road to temple

Ixchel  was the most important of the many females worshipped by the Maya. Her role was fertility, ease in childbirth, family harmony, and weaving of all kinds — very like the great goddesses of other cultures.

The spot was beautiful, and indeed, it did feel powerful even though the temple structure was flattened. This southern tip of the island received strong winds and water currents even on a mild day. As the waves hit the rocks below the water splashed high into the air that then carried drops up to dampen our faces as we peered out from the high vantage.

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Ixchel’s temple

 

As it grew dark, my imagination was captivated by this place that had drawn women, not unlike myself, to sit and contemplate the night sky.  It was a brilliant clear night, and as the sliver of a new moon rose out of the east, above my head the Milky Way glistened.

One of my favorite of the Mayan creation stories came to mind.

“One day Ixchel, who was the most beautiful girl who ever lived, and who was the moon, was weaving in the afternoon in the yard of her father’s house.  As was her custom when she worked, she dreamed dreams of her lover, Kinich Ahau, the sun.  Suddenly, as if in answer to her prayers, he appeared and grabbed her in his arms and flew up into the sky to make his escape with his beloved moon.  Just then her father came out from inside the house, and, upon seeing the two escaping, took out his blowgun and shot the sun. The sun sank and the moon, his daughter, fell into the sea and shattered into a thousand pieces.  When the fish saw this, they tried to patch her together with their scales.  When that failed, they linked themselves together, mouth to tail to mouth to tail and so on, until they formed a net in which they could lift her shattered body to her lover the sun.  This also failed, and they could only leave her in the sky where she passes all her time chasing the sun across. The fish that tried to help her turned into the Milky Way.”

Modern physics describes the creation of the cosmos as beginning with a Big Bang that led to the formation of stars which gathered together into galaxies, with suns and moons and planets. They tell us exactly how that occurred according to physical facts; of atoms and force fields like gravity and the speed of light, quarks and particles so infinitesimally small hundreds of thousands of them live in a mote of dust. They describe exactly how it happened according to physical facts discovered by instruments so sophisticated that they must build underground tunnels miles long and force the particles to move faster and faster through those tunnels to collide with other particles. By this method they assure us they know exactly what the truth is about the stars and the formation of cosmic life. It is an awesome endeavor and full of wonder and beauty.

However, as a simple human being watching the night sky and wondering how it came to be, and further, wondering what does it have to do with me; a small being living in a dwelling with other beings that I love and hunting for my dinner in the jungle and growing corn in my garden to feed myself and my children and meeting birds and animals as I move through my day? As that person, I want to know what’s expected of me and who made me and why. Ixchel’s story satisfies my need when I imagine her as the moon and feel the sadness of her separation from the sun; something I can understand because I too suffer losses and separations from people I love. I know what it means to suffer, and so I have a relationship with the gods and am connected; no longer a drifting bit of nothing in a giant void, but a being who can relate to the most profound experiences.

These questions have intrigued humans since the dawn of time and the answers change with the time but are never diminished in importance. Today we are more oriented to science; to physical proofs to answer our questions, but need that diminish the value and correctness of the view of people of other times, who, lacking modern instruments, were more poetic in answering those fundamental questions?

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childhood, fairytales, journey, magic, story, writing

The World of Appearance & Dis-appearance

Part One

Once there was a tiny snake. The reason to make this point from the outset is that its size plays such a very important part in the story I am about to tell you. So, once there was a tiny snake whose name was Tyrone, and he was yellow and blue. That is, in the main he was yellow with a thin stripe of blue going round and round in a spiral over his entire length and ending in a diamond of blue at the top of his head. His eyes were also blue. Tyrone spent his days in lazy abandon sliding from one comfortable spot to another depending on the temperature and place of the sun. He loved lying in the sun, at least he did until it became too warm, and then he would grudgingly move into the shade where he would return to a semi-somnambulant state. It was not so much that he would sleep, but that he would drift between the worlds of appearance and dis-appearance. Tyrone lived to drift and would surely have continued on in this vain for eternity if the following circumstance had not forced him onto a journey he did not ask for.

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The sun had fallen low in the sky casting long shadows from the giant oaks over the grassy slope where he lay curled. His drift had taken him to the essence of the oak whose shadow he lay beneath. Knowing her for who she really was, he was in a state of awe, when he was abruptly jerked back into the world of appearances by a string of angry words whose meaning he was unfamiliar with. Opening his bright blue eyes he raised his head and looked around for the source of the anguish. Above him in the boughs of the oak sat a human boy with his legs draped over a branch and his pajamas tangled in the smaller branches from which he was pulling with all his might to free himself.

“How in this world did you get yourself into such a predicament?” Tyrone asked incredulous. And that is saying something about the nature of this particular adventure, for Tyrone had never had the experience of incredulity. He certainly was familiar with awe, wonder, horror, joy, abandon, misery, love, beauty, fear; those aspects of the essential world and of the material one, but none of his previous experience prepared him for such surprise; for what did not make sense.

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A moving shadow passed over the boy– a red-tailed hawk hunting. Tyrone slid below a fern at the base of the tree.
The boy swore loudly.
“Hissssss– shhhh,” warned Tyrone. When the hawk had passed, the snake popped his head out and directed his intense gaze once again at the distraught child. “So, what is your answer?”
Cursing.
“Oh, do stop that at once. You’ll only get both of us into some kind of trouble if you insist on drawing attention to yourself. That hawk, for instance, after he had me for dinner might take you on. Though it is not usual, neither, I have to say, are you.”
The boy’s hair –which was bright red–stuck out in several directions. “I just woke up. Why am I not in my bed?” He opened his mouth to let out another string of obscure words.
“Hssss–Shhhh. Now, tell me everything you can remember and don’t leave anything out. I can’t help you sort this out until I know everything.
“How can you help me. You’re too small.”
Tyrone laughed.
The boy’s eyes grew large with wonder at the sound; a snake laughing is not something one hears everyday. “I remember going to bed and then drifting to sleep, something about flying. Yes. I had wings and a different sort of body. It was light, not like being awake with this heavy clunky body that is hard to move in. And now I’m awake and stuck up here. Stupid body — stupid snake.”
“Now, now, no need to call names is there. Won’t help a bit. It’s not a stupid body, just you don’t know how to work it yet, and I am by no means a ‘stupid’ snake. By the way, name’s Tyrone. Yours?”
The boy’s face was a mix between a pout and dis-belief. “Andrew, Andrew Benedict Aniston. They call me Andy — and, that-a-boy and Gopher. Sometimes mom calls me rascal and trouble but mostly Andy.”
Tyrone rolled his eyes causing the blue of his eyes to circle like the blue stripes around what could be called his neck.
The boy smiled. “Do that again.”
Tyrone complied, pleased to have diverted Andy’s attention from his distressed condition and giving himself time to consider the clues as they were presented.

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Humans had seldom crossed his path so he was unfamiliar with their particular reality, but he knew from his observation of all life forms, that each has an esssential life that creates and nourishes the one in physical reality — the world of what Tyrone called, appearances. It seemed that the child had drifted between the worlds and was in a bit of a muddle-which is something like, but not really — the middle, for there can be no middle ground between above and below, at least not so far as Tyrone knew. But maybe, he thought, incredulous for the second time in one day, humans were capable of being in the middle.
How that would be sorted out is the adventure.
“What else do you remember before going to your nap?”
Andy sighed heavily. ”Could you get me down first?”
“Not really. I don’t know where you are yet. Come on, try to remember.”
“I’m right here. Can’t you see me?”
“I see something, but it isn’t really you.”
Andy started to curse, but stopped up short. “My brother is sick. Everyone was busy taking care of him when I was put to bed. Mom was crying.”
Tyrone nodded. “Good. Tell me about your brother.”
Andy smiled. “The most important thing about him is that he’s my twin. Of course, he’s brave and strong and loads of fun. Since he’s been sick, Mom won’t let me see him. He’s in a dark room alone. Why do they do that to him?”
“They are trying to help him get well. They think that’s how to do it.” Tyrone shook his head. “Maybe they’re right, but it isn’t always best. There are many reasons for sickness in the physical world and knowing what lies beneath is not what most beings are capable of. Of course, a real doctor would know. Let’s hope your brother has one. What’s your brother’s name?”
“Billy — that’s for William.”
“And how old is Billy?”
“He’ll be nine, as I am.”
“Tell me more about your time flying.”
“It was great fun– at least it was for awhile, but then it got very dark, and there was a big wind and a terrible sound. I remember now. I was looking for someone. That’s why I was flying; to get up high and look around to find them. But then the dark and wind came, and the next thing was that I was here in this silly tree–sorry tree–you’re not silly. Nice tree. Would you let me down now?”
Tom would have laughed at this last bit if not for the terrible information that came before. This was not good–not good at all. “Andrew, go back and remember when you were flying. Can you do that?”
“I’ll try.” Andy squinched up his eyes tight. “Now what?”
“Who are you looking for? “
“Billy, he’s lost.”
“Very good Andrew. Can you see him?”
Andy shook his head hard nearly freeing his pajamas from the grasp of the oak’s hold on him, but she held her grip.

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When Tom saw the oak reach her branches tighter to protect the boy, he smiled and nodded to her. “I see, so he is now present enough that he could be hurt. Do help him down then, won’t you?”
Andy looked back and forth quizically from the branches stuck to his sleeves and Tom. “Are you talking to the tree?”
“Who else?”
Very gently the branches moved to lower the child. Unless one were looking very closely– as we are now — it would merely have appeared that the tree was moving in the wind.
“Thank you,” Andy said with great seriousness.
The oak appeared to nod.
“Better?” Tyrone raised up to his full height to better peer at Andy which brought him to Andy’s shins.
“You really are small aren’t you? How do you propose to help me then?”
Tom didn’t take offense, as he fully understood that it is in the nature of young beings of all types, human or otherwise, to be demanding and direct as is correct. “Good question. Here is what we know; you went on a journey to find your brother, along the way you lost yourself, you are now in neither the surface world where you consider yourself to be awake, nor are you fully in the world you associate with dreams and imagination. You are in the netherworld with me. This is the place I know best, so– if we’re going to find your brother and return you both to the world where your parents will be waiting anxiously for you– we must get on with it. Can you keep a secret?”
“Oh, yes, Billy and I have lots of secrets. What’s the secret then?” Andy sat down on the ground and put his face up close to Tom’s, who reached his body as long as he could make it to put his mouth up to Andy’s ear.
“No one–under any circumstances– can know that I am your guide. Do you have a pocket in that get-up you’re wearing?”
Andy pointed to a small pouch at his left hip.
“Good. I will travel with you in that pouch, but do you understand that once anyone knows of my existence, you will have dis-sed me–sent me to the world of dis-appearance– or appearance as the case may be; for it will depend on who you tell. As we are to be companions on this journey you may call me, Ty. Unless, of course, you’re in immediate danger and then TYRONE, will bring quick help. Got it?”
“Got it, Ty.”
“So, let’s go then.”
“But where are we going?”
Ty laughed, that sound unlike any other. “It’s a surprise.”
“But how will I know where to go?”
“Once I’m in your pocket your feet will be led by my knowledge. I will be your guide remember?”
Andy nodded and very carefully picked Ty up in both his hands. ”Please don’t wiggle, or I might drop you.”

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archaeology, life, Mayan Culture, mythology, philosophy, research, spirituality, travel, writing

Travels in the Mayan Yucatan

On the Trail of Mayan Secrets, Coba, Wind Ruffled Waters

This is the fourth in a series of articles that explores the philosophic and spiritual concepts of the Classic Maya. What did these intelligent people believe about themselves, life and the gods, and how did those ideas influence the way they lived? In seeking answers I went to the oldest and probably the largest ancient city on the Yucatan Peninsula, Coba.

“Wind ruffled Waters.”

I could see why Coba had been so named; the sun broke into a myriad of lights as it fell into the tiny waves made by the wind as it passed across the water of the lake and high-lighted the mist that rose phantom like from the tall grasses at the edge. From where I stood at the end of a small pier that jutted out from the barren shore beside the hotel, my eye was drawn further; toward the jungle at the far edge of the lake and the tallest pyramid in the Yucatan that rose above the mass of green like an aged forlorn space ship long forgotten, abandoned by the builders, no longer of use, a relic of past glory.

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Coba pier

With such easy access to water—there are five lakes in the region — it was not only mankind who was drawn to this spot: all manner of animal, bird, insect and plant would also have made their homes here and for that reason my exploration on this trip would be of the ancient Maya’s relationship to nonhuman beings; both mythic and spiritual.  Here the coral snake would have lived– famous for biting one’s shadow– the alligator was also dominant as well as monkeys, armadillos, coatimundi and jaguar.  As I gazed into the water around the pier several turtles bobbed, heads raised curiously toward me, the intruder in their realm. Turtles were a favorite creature to the ancient people; the earth was thought of as the rounded circular back of a great tortoise.

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boys on the lake

Located 26 miles east of the Caribbean, Coba’s Mayan settlement was once one of the largest in the Yucatan, extending three miles by six miles, comprised of several distinct sites connected by Sacbeob, sacred roads. The roads varied in depth from two feet to over eight feet when crossing swampy areas, averaged thirty two feet in width and most ran perfectly straight. The shoulders were made from roughly dressed stone, the bed of the road from large boulders with smaller stones on top, and finally the surface was plastered with limestone cement.  A stone roller, weighing over five tons was found here, probably used to compact the stones during construction. Over 50 of these Sacbeob were discovered in and around Coba making it the densest road system in Meso-America. One of these roads runs 60 miles to a settlement past Chichen Itza, another runs to the coast and others run both north and south, distinguishing Coba as an important trade center.

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Archaeological Hotel at Coba

As the sun gained height, the heat rose with it causing waves to rise from the dirt road and the last of the mist around the lake to disappear. The day would be too hot to explore the site until later, so I headed to the welcome cool interior of the hotel.

ArtBite8aIn the reception area I was greeted by a sculpture of a quetzal bird; a shy forest dweller capable of releasing humans from time’s bondage. One of the most important animals in their cosmology due to the importance they placed on both time and transformation, the quetzal’s feathers, beautiful iridescent blue-green, were highly prized by Mayans as totems. On the opposite side of the desk, housed in a glass case, was a serpent sculpture, dated 800AD.  The designers of the hotel must have been cognizant of the ancient beliefs when placing these artifacts, as the serpent was considered the opposite of the quetzal bird and both represent aspects if the life/death cycle.

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Viewing the lake

So far as Mayan gods were concerned, they were of two primary types: spiritual creation gods, and the creature gods who resembled a real animal, bird or insect in the physical world.  Purely spiritual gods had no comparable form on earth and for this reason, the gods who took a recognizable earthly form were more loved by the simple people whom they could more easily understand. The Principal Bird Deity, one of the first deities revered by the Maya for power, was often shown holding a snake in its mouth, possibly a reference to storms and lightning. Quetzalcoatl, the plumed serpent god, the synthesis of bird and serpent, may have been derived from the Principal Bird in its relationship to both bird and snake, but whether or not they were connected, it was Quetzalcoatl who gained prominence and became one of the greatest gods in all of Mesoamerica.  Associated with the life giving elements of wind, it was often the patron of rulers and priests.

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Hut protecting ancient inscription

When the sun sank low enough for me to venture out, I headed down the dusty dirt road that ran beside the lake to the ruins half a mile away.  The mass of tour buses from earlier were gone, and the many guides so anxious for business in the morning, lounged casually in the shade by the ticket counter unmoved by my approach.  Fine, I thought, I won’t have to turn them down.  I was on the trail of creatures that live within the dense cloud cover of the jungle: of Toucans, Macaws and Motmots, brilliant turquoise crested birds, as well as a myriad of other flying beings.

Through the dense shrub that covered the site, butterflies drifted lazily, birds with high pitched voices called out from deep in the jungle, and I followed their calls. To either side of the path were many mounds that I recognized as unexcavated structures where the shrub had taken over; where lizards and iguana hesitatingly peeked their heads out of the shade they’d slept within for the hot part of the day and would now be looking for dinner.

Populated from at least 600 AD to well into the time of the Spanish conquest in the 16th century, this city sprawled to include outlying areas for over 600 square miles. Today very few of the original structures have been excavated. There are three main sections of several buildings each which are separated by long neat trails, a ball court, and the tallest structure in the Yucatan, named Nohoch Mul is 120 steps and rises to 140 feet. The climb to the top is far better than any stair-master at the gym; the steps half broken and extremely steep; a purposeful design to require one to crawl like a jaguar when approaching the temple at the top.

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Nohoch Mul

The trail between groups of buildings is wide and easy to follow, and as I meandered alone through the growing dark, far ahead I glimpsed a large creature run across the path to quickly disappear into the dense undergrowth on the other side. I raced forward, my heart beating quickly with the hope of seeing who it was that had graced me with a vision.  But once I reached the place I’d seen it enter, there was no sign or sound to tell me more.  It could have been a jaguar– they are still seen occasionally — or it could have been a large house cat, but I was quite certain it was of the cat family. In my years of research about the ancient Maya, the references to the jaguar—both the animal and the god– are the most frequent, and for me, have been the most intriguing.

 

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A pyramid in the interior of the site

 

 

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archaeology, beauty, Mayan Culture, mythology, philosophy, research, spirituality, travel, writing

Travels In the Mayan Yucatan

In preparation for the publication of my novel, The Jaguar’s House,this will be the first in a four part series that explores the beliefs and traditions of the Ancient Maya.

Astonishing travelers! What noble stories we read in your eyes as deep as the seas! Show us the coffers of your rich memories, those marvelous jewels made of stars and ether.
We want to travel without steam, without sail! To enliven the tedium of our prisons, set sailing over our minds, stretched out like canvas, your memories with the horizon for their frame.
Tell us, what have you seen?

Charles Baudelaire, “Le Voyage”Travel Stories

 

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On the Trail of Mayan Secrets

The Classic Mayan period of history in Mexico and Central America is unique in all the world and, as such, has captivated our imagination since we first became aware of them.  What we’ve learned is only a small part of their story but one from which a vague outline of their civilization can be drawn.  My intention in this series of articles will be to explore a few of their central concepts in an attempt to better understand what these highly intelligent people with very complex ideas believed about themselves, life and the gods, and from that, how they lived.

The road from the Cancun airport to the Mayan ruins of Chichen Itza cuts so straight through the jungle that I imagined even the crows eye it with suspicion.  I was in the interior of the Yucatan, land of the Maya. Their accomplishments were known to me from previous trips and 20 years of study.  I’d just completed an historical novel about the Classic Maya and had returned to explore the astronomical beliefs associated with the observatory at the ruins of Chichen Itza.

ArtBite8aWho were these people whose master mathematicians came up with the concept of zero, whose brilliant astronomers charted the heavens without the aid of modern technology, creating calendars as accurate as any in the Old World, who built architectural wonders in the Puuc region that Frank Lloyd Wright hailed as the best in the western hemisphere? I was determined to learn more about them and thought to spend time at each of the major archaeological sites on the peninsula delving into a different aspect of their cultural and spiritual beliefs at each place.

 

The drive passed through several small Mayan villages; traditional homes of wood and grass roofs, surrounded by gardens and low rock walls where the women wear hoichel — a white cotton dress with brightly colored embroidery around the neck and hem.  Most people living in the villages of this area maintain the ancient way of life; they plant their corn with ceremony, conduct their families traditionally, and appoint a calendar-keeper, a daykeeper, to track the auspicious days and direct their lives.

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By the time I reached the hotel at Chichen, the sun was just going down, and the night creatures were already singing in full voice.  The songs of the night were far more elaborate than the day.  Rather than the sporadic cheeps and rasps of insects with an occasional bird call, there was a seamless blend of voices.  It seemed as if every unseen creature — of which there were millions — had a voice to contribute and didn’t hesitate to do so.

 

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The Mayaland Hotel, built on the boundary of the ruins, has 100 acres of gardens that surround the main house and its outlying bungalows where the grounds are alive with birdsong and butterflies and exotic fruits and flowers of the tropics.

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From the top of the steps of the hotel entrance I turned to look back, and my breath caught with delight.  The ruins of the shell-shaped observatory named El Caracol by the Spaniards, rose in the golden glow of the setting sun like a beacon of mystery.

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What must it have been like 1100 years ago when it was in its prime, a haven of scientific observation? Estimates suggest that as many as 50,000 people lived at the center at its peak around 900 AD.  I could hardly wait to check in and go to the site.  A private back-gate leads into the ruins where you’re free to walk in anytime between eight and five, and again for the light show at seven, fostering a sense that you too are one of the early explorers.

 

Fascinated with time and its relationship to events in their lives, the Maya became one of the first cultures to chart the passage of the stars in the heavens — with an accuracy that rivals modern technology.  In fact, they were so intrigued with time that they built whole systems of thought around it.  For hundreds of years they studied the sky and elaborated a complex system about the relationship between the gods and man.  So practical are their beliefs that each day has a god.  The qualities of that particular god inform the people how to relate to that day so that they may live with assurance that they’re in harmony with the will of the gods. They call it Hanab Ku.

 

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Eight o’clock on the dot the next morning found me at the back-gate ready to explore the observatory before the tourist buses arrived.  Today the road is lined with present day Maya selling their wares to the tourists. I approached the snail-shaped building, I imagined the area as it had once been; the temples brightly painted, the square paved and lined with trees where dozens of people went about their morning errands.

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The circular superstructure consists of a lower story with radial shafts emerging from its center, and in the interior, a circular stairway rises to the top where more shafts located at precise compass points allowed the ancient astronomers to chart sunrises, sunsets, eclipses and planetary transits.  From these observations they drew the heavens  and from those charts they deciphered the passage of time.

Thus a complex system of calendars emerged; a system unique in human history for it deciphered millions of years into the past and thousands of years into the future, predicting a continual round of days with particular attributes.  Armed with this information the priests could inform people both about their history and about what was to come.  It was also used to make decisions about planting crops, about going to war, about times for rituals.  In fact, the calendar was used for all decisions both cultural and individual.  For example, on an inauspicious day, one might not travel to the market.  When I say calendar, I’m over-simplifying because there are actually three calendars; each with a particular function that work together to create pin-point accuracy.

 

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First there’s the solar calendar

of 365.24 days, which is straightforward to our way of thinking.

Then there’s the Ceremonial Calendar

which is entirely different but operates concurrently with the Solar; with a 20 day cycle, each day representing a different god with particular attributes.  The attributes of the god make up the quality of the day.  The days are also attached to 13 numbers. The 13 numbers are multiplied by the 20 day gods to make a 260 day cycle.  This calendar was the more significant for the Classic Maya as they used it for divination and for decision making; both for matters of state and for personal choices.  It was also called The Book of Good and Bad Days.

Then there is The Venus Calendar,

based on the transits of the planet Venus.

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Time on earth was seen as cyclical

— with a beginning and an end –reflecting the spiritual belief that the world is continually created and destroyed.  At the end of the long count of the calendar cycle the gods may decide that humans have fulfilled their vision for them and it will continue.  However, if they have failed to please the gods, the creation will be destroyed.  This concept also supported the ruler’s choice of action. For example, the best time to go to war would be at the end of a cycle.

When I wound back down the stairs to stand once again on the wide platform that supported El Caracol, I could just imagine an event when a priest stood at this very point after having predicted an eclipse, and the people bowed down in awe as it occurred on schedule.  To be able to describe the secrets of the universe through their calculations must have been truly inspiring, and also reassuring.

Might this ability of the Mayan intellect be responsible in a fundamental way for the richness of the Classic Maya period for when people feel secure– and this knowledge would certainly have that effect– they’re more open, creative and productive.

 

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gratitude, parenting, philosophy, spirituality, thanksgiving, writing

Everyday Gratitude

The Attack of the Turkeys.  I’m not kidding.

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Tennessee Valley is one of my favorite places to walk; a two mile valley that runs east/west to the beach just north of San Francisco.   There’s a side path that goes through a horse pasture to an overgrown pond where I like to go looking for things to photograph.  On this occasion a few months ago, as I was passing the horses, five very large, very angry turkeys blocked my way.

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Ignorant of the ways of turkeys, I charged on through them thinking, mistakenly, that they’d back down, instead they surrounded me and with wildly, and incredibly strong beating wings, proceeded to beat me up.  With nothing but the jacket I carried, I swung at them.  However, I was also intend on documenting the event and continued to take photographs.

 

 

 

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Above is some unknown part of the turkey as it was beating me with its wings which are incredibly hard and strong.

Since they were intend on blocking my path and would certainly do me harm, I was ready to give up and turn for home, when a ranger came and drove them off.  They were guarding a nest of babies.

Tomorrow millions of people will eat turkey, myself included.  A delicious bird that has come to symbolize our gratitude for the abundance in our lives.  After more than 200 years of being prey on this day, it’s no wonder the creature is feisty.

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I’m glad that there is a day assigned for giving thanks.  I really do appreciate the gesture, however, each day we’re alive to experience the unfolding of life on this gorgeous, fragile, powerful, multi-faceted planet, is a day to celebrate.  No matter what one believes about life after death, once dead, wherever we go from here, we will no longer be a part of life on this planet.

So I thank the turkeys for showing me something of their power and their willingness to put themselves at risk for the sake of their off spring; to remind me that

all life is moved to protect new life.  It is how the creation assures it’s survival.  It is a life force, not unlike gravity or time or space.  It is called Love.

 

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art, beauty, hope, inspiration, life, writing

Paris; Love, Beauty, Inspiration, Joie de Vivre, Will never be beaten down.

IMG_2632Like so many others, the first time I
saw Paris, I fell in love.  In many consequent trips, I continued that love affair; always a little different, but never less thrilling.  I wrote an historical novel: the Nobility of the Robe, about a real woman who was the abbess of Port Royal Abbey in 17th Century Paris that allowed me to return several times.  I’d planned to return this spring, for no other reason than to remember myself as a french woman.  My mother was french, and I had discovered that heritage was very much alive in me; i walk differently on the streets of Paris; I breathe and sigh more passionately, I am more fully feminine.

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I took up the habit of writing poems on napkins in the cafes as I ate my croissant and listened to the melody of French conversations at nearby tables. On that first mad, divine, trip with no paper to write on but the napkin on my table, the waitress smiled when she saw me and said, “For your great novel?” We both laughed and I knew I was home; home to the creative artistic spirit that is the quintessential attraction of Paris.

Though I traveled alone, I never felt alone, never felt at risk walking at night, often in the rain, carrying my heavy photographic equipment.  Paris is even more wonderful at night in the rain.

When I returned from that first trip I created a photographic show of the images from that time.  They’re still some of my favorites.  All of the images in this post are from Paris.

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This one from the Luxembourg gardens is a normal sighting of those who spend time there.

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The wedding dress image was a surprise.  I was walking along the Seine and shot the display in the store window.  I didn’t know until the film was developed how much more had been captured.  I’m dating myself by admitting to film.  It was a while ago!

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In the Rodin Museum, another surprise moment caught my attention.

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Outside Notre Dame, I was fortunate to come upon an unusual mime that I felt captured the spirit of Paris completely; whimsical, musical and melancholic.  What I’m saying, is that my artistic spirit is so moved in that environment, things just happen.  There is nowhere else in the world where I have been so free..

That said, I am saddened far beyond these words can express by the assault on Paris this last Friday.  Will any of us who love, and, or live, in that magical city ever experience such freedom again? Will the dark overcome the light?

The answer is a resounding NO; say NO to fear, say NO to worry, say NO to doubt, say NO to the pain others cannot help but inflict on life, love and beauty.

        Say NO

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inspiration, life, psychology, spirituality, story, writing

Connect With Your Creative Muse; for fun, for help with a problem, even for Directions.

There are so any times, and so many reasons, we need help from a source greater than ourselves.  As 12 step programs say, we need to understand what is in our control and what is not.  However, when it is not, that’s when I make the call.  Jungian Psychology names that force: the anima or animus; the contra sexual part of the psyche that supports the ego when it is at its wits end; when we need to know what we don’t know.

The best examples in my life have been when I’m traveling. greece3

 

I was alone in Greece doing research for my novel, Echo the Ancients, and had rented a car to drive to Delphi from Athens.  If you’ve ever driven in Greece, you’ll know what an adventure that is; the signs are all in Greek.  After a magical day and night at the site, I was faced with the daunting task of finding my way back through Athens to the car rental agency.  I was definitely at my wits end, and so, had a tearful conversation with my animus to please get us there in one piece and without getting lost.  I hate to get lost.  Maps would do no good, as the street map of Athens is a labyrinth of twisting turns, one way streets and streets that end with no warning.  I knew that there was no choice but to drive, and hope and believe that my unconscious would do its job because I’d asked for help.

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You might call it, being on auto-pilot.  Within minutes of arriving at the city limits I drove directly to the rental car agency.  I called it a miracle then, and still do.

That was not the first time or would it be the last that I found the help I needed when traveling alone. For those of you who are like me; intrepid lone explorers,I know you’ll understand; when we have companions we turn to them for help, when we’re alone, we turn inward to a power far greater than ourselves.

The fun part of relationship with the Muse is on creative projects.  My favorite example is when I was in love with a place: The Yucatan.  My first trip was with my daughter and friends to Isla Mujeres: The Island of Women off the coast of Cancun.  On our visit to the archeological Mayan site at Tulum, I went alone into a cave and envisioned a Mayan girl who’d gone there to be alone.  That was the beginning of 20 years of research about the Maya, of 12 visits to the area, of several newspaper and magazine articles about the place, and my novel, The Jaguar’s House.

Several years into my intoxication with The Yucatan, I went alone to photograph images and capture the magical spirit of the land.  I’d taught myself how to photograph in a way that part of the image was transparent; that would represent the spirit.  It was the most fun I’ve ever had.  I went to each of my favorite places; the beach at Isla, Cenote Azul off the coast, Tulum, of course, and the inland archaeological site at Coba.  Using my new technique, I played with the land and the spirits that lived there. The following images are from that time.Ruins 4 Cenote 5

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I was never alone, but always with my dearest love; my animus, my muse.  Whatever name I call that force, it is with me always and most evident when I’m alone.  At home in everyday life, it arises when I’m sad, or especially glad and in need of inspiration.  I believe that at root, it is inspiration; an uprising from the unconscious of something that wants to come into being.

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