At the beginning of May, I was invited to Chuarrancho by a shaman there to participate in the annual Ceremony of the Mayan Cross.
After driving about 13 hours, my friend and I arrived at the shaman’s house and were invited in. The entryway hallway was filled with a marimba and several drums on one side. I squeezed by and continued in. To the right was a room. Except for an armoire in one corner, the only other furniture in the room were chairs and benches that had been arranged around the perimeter of the room. The cinderblock walls were covered with crossed leaves and palm fronds. They were carefully and evenly spaced around the walls so that they formed a horizontal line of decoration that included all four walls. A huge basked sat on the floor just inside the door, with a variety of fruit in it. In the center of the room was a 5-foot tall symmetrical cross. Each arm of the cross was the same length and was covered with fresh flowers that aligned with the directions: white for the north, red for east, yellow for south, purple (black) for west, and blue/green for the center. This was the room where the first ceremony would be conducted.
That night we got started. There were about twenty-five people in the room, sitting in chairs around the perimeter of the room. In addition to my shamanic friend, there were three other Guatemalan shamans there. Candles were lit in front of the cross, and small groupings of candles were placed for each direction: red for east, white for north, black for west, yellow for south, and blue/green for the center. Two incense burners had been lit and let out the scent of copal with their smoke. The musicians started playing the marimba and drums to signal the start of the ceremony.
We began by facing and calling in each of the directions – East, West, South, North. Each of the Guatemalan shamans aligned with a direction, and when it was his or her turn, called in and expressed gratitude to the direction. They then called in the ancestors and those living to come together for the purpose of ceremony.
With the ceremony begun, my friend held the speaking stick, an 18-inch or so stick that had been decorated with colorful threads, beads and feathers, and began explaining the significance of the ceremony. “The ceremony of the Mayan Cross was celebrated throughout the Mayan region here and in other countries, but now is only celebrated in a few areas of Guatemala today. The cross is special to the Mayans and has been used as a symbol of the balance that exists in the world. You’ll notice that the cross itself is balanced. Each arm of the cross is the same length as the other ones, indicating the balance between two extremes or differences. Among other things, the horizontal arms symbolize male and female, and the vertical arms symbolize Father Sky and Mother Earth.”
“This ceremony is one of gratitude and is very powerful. We are thankful for the many blessings we have received from Mother Earth and Father Sky, such as the fruits, fire and flowers that we have placed around the cross. With heartfelt gratitude we give these gifts back to Mother Earth and ask that she provide more for us so all peoples around the world have enough to eat. With gratitude and open hearts, we ask Father Sky to bring sunshine, wind and rain to help food grow.”
“And we pray that people around the world care for Mother Earth and Father Sky. There has been so much harm to the planet; it breaks my heart.” She paused for a moment, thinking, and a tear rolled down her cheek. She continued, “We must work together to clean the water, to clean the air, to clean the earth. The pain we have inflicted on Mother Earth and Father Sky has to be reversed or else they will stop caring for us.”
We then put offerings of fruits, water, chocolate, soup, bread and alcohol in front of the cross and with each direction. My friend then led us in prayers and chants in the Mayan language expressing gratitude and asking for balance and rain. The ceremony lasted for about 90 minutes, and then we danced, talked and ate for the rest of the night. The musicians played until 5:30 in the morning. With the first bit of light showing in the sky, they stopped playing and began breaking down the instruments. That was the signal for the rest of us to begin preparing for the next round of ceremonies.
The cross and all of the offerings were loaded into the back of one pickup truck. A second pickup truck held the musical instruments, completely reassembled, and the musicians. My friend asked if I would drive my car and drive some of the elder women, and of course I said yes.
We ended up driving to four sacred sites and made offerings and prayed at each for rain. Rain was a real issue. I had overheard one person say that the lake in town had dried up, and there was a real concern about having enough water for crops to grow.
As we drove between each site, the musicians led the way and played from the back of the truck, followed by the truck with the cross, then the people walking who had participated in the ceremony the night before. I brought up the rear with my car. Villagers would come running when they heard the music and light firecrackers, add offerings to the back of the pickup truck with the cross in it, and join our ever-growing group of people walking to the next site.
At the final site, we conducted the largest ceremony, a fire ceremony. Similar to the ceremony at Uaxactun, the altar was prepared with a variety of items – sugar, opal, herbs, candles, flowers and bread – and then, when the time was right, lit on fire so the smoke could rise to the heavens with our prayers and offerings. The ceremony and its petitions and gratitude lasted for about 90 minutes, and I could feel the love, gratitude and requests of the people here in my heart..
There were easily 50 people in attendance, and after the ceremony we shared a communal lunch that some of the woman had been preparing while we were doing the fire ceremony. With a happy heart and deeper connections with my Guatemalan shamanic friends, I began the long drive home.