Readers!

Please enjoy these blogposts, written between 2011 and 2015. Find newer posts soon at my forthcoming blog, Revolutionary Time.

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Learning from a Mayan Shaman, #1: The Yucatan

I promised myself that when I came back to this blog, I'd write about books and writing and nothing more. Whoops.

 
Israel May 
My husband and I just returned from Mexico, where we and fifteen others met at the Cancun airport and traveled west by bus to the colonial city of Izamal. We spent a week there driving out to visit Mayan ruins and learning from a Mayan shaman. Gary Stamper, Anyaa McAndrew, and Carolyn Baker--all people I hope to know for the rest of my life--planned the trip. I don't think any of them would object to my saying that the shaman we spent the week with, a quiet, modest man named Israel May, was our teacher and leader. With Israel we visited Mayan ruins in the Yucatan and Quintana Roo states of Northern Mexico--Chichen Itza first, then Ake, Tulum, and the Temple of Ixchel.

From 1800 BC to 1500 AD, the Maya thrived in stages in Central America, primarily in areas that now lie in Mexico and Guatemala. As you probably know, they developed written language, higher mathematics and astronomy, as well as skills that allowed them, without benefit of pack animals or metal tools, to build communities both beautiful and functional, and feed their people. A powerful mystical tradition also grew up.

Why the Maya "disappeared" is a topic of some interest to people in the collapsing cultures of the global North. We know that Mayan cities from the classic period (about 250 AD to 900) were deserted long before Spanish soldiers and priests began their invasions in the 1500s. There is no consensus as to precisely why these communities failed. Some guesses are that a long drought stressed the primary crop, corn, that too many rich demanded service from too few poor, that forests were overcut to clear land for farming and to fuel preparation of the limestone plaster used to ornament buildings.

From the jungles of the south, the Maya moved north. Although the north was dryer, they could tap into water tables at shallow depths. In magnificent cities like Chichen Itza and Tulum, the Maya maintained a culture remarkably uniform through the centuries until the Spanish tried their best to wipe it and them out.

Chichen Itza, Pyramid of Kukulcan, "The Castle"


Ake, roof of marketplace missing. Although Ake is Early Classic, older than Chichen Itza, it is not yet completely unearthed.  



Tulum, El Castillo

Temple of the Goddess Ixchel, Isla Mujeres


The Mayan people, however, have not disappeared. We saw them, small in body, forthright in gaze, everywhere we went. Israel learned his shamanic skills from his grandmother and now educates northerners in ancient ways, doing as much good as he can for visitors who have trouble benefitting from what they don't understand.

More to come.


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Photo credits: Israel May (trip members: who took this?); Chichen Itza, Ake, Tulum by Warren Miller; Temple of Ixchel, Google Images.