Entry by Amelia Gentile
Day Two in Guatemala brought us back to our roots in ritual.
The day began with our intentional devotion leaders Mahsea and Xan opening up the trip before us. The center of the room held a table with each of the earth’s elements represented in crystal and a pinecone, water, air, and a spiritual fire presence.
We each stepped into the center of the circle, and placed a rock inside of a ceremonial bowl, and entered a space to share our hopes, fears, and goals for the immersion experience. Then, we added a small amount of water from the pitcher onto the rocks as we closed and passed along to the next person. Speaking out these anxieties or dreams into the room set the tone for the rest of the day (which would only increase in physical and spiritual proximities…)
We spent the next few hours in a bus on the way out of Guatemala City headed towards the Mayan ruins of Iximche’. Before arriving, though, we stopped to pick up two important members of the next few days of the journey — Otto and Basilia. They are members of the Sister’s Parish through which our immersion experience is coordinated; a particularly unique privilege of this program is this ability to travel together for portions of time.
After lunching at an incredibly beautiful hotel/restaurant/garden area, we arrived at Iximche’. Otto gave us a bit of background on the area which was the Mayan capital from the mid 1400’s until its abandonment due to the arrival of the Spanish colonizers in 1524. Otto told us the story he learned growing up; the city is located up on a ridge with a large ravine off to the side of the most holy ceremonial site because the Maya knew the Spanish were coming and placed the most valuable space where it could be guarded. They also split the major city into many smaller settlements around the area in order to try to preserve their history and culture which would be almost completely destroyed upon the arrival of the Spanish. The particular ritual he led for us today is one which has fluxuated between legal and illegal throughout the history since colonization, often carrying the price of death for its performance. This representation of the spirituality of the indigenous Mayan people was in itself a demonstration of resilience and blessing that the people were able to preserve so much against the odds.
Otto began by setting the altar with various representations of the elements, much like our ceremony this same morning. First, he asked the ancestors (abuelos) for permission to do the ceremony in this time and place with us as witnesses and participants. He sprinkled a distilled liquor, water, brown and white sugars, wrapped cigars, pieces of wood, as the base, marking cardinal directions as he went. Finally, he layered on large handfuls of tapered candles in a variety of colors. These colors, he said, represented a multitude of things, but mainly demonstrated the beauty of diversity. He frequently reinforced the idea that as members of the community of people who inhabit the earth, the ceremony was for all peoples and backgrounds as represented in the colors of yellow, black, red, brown, and white. Blue and green represented the sky and the earth as equally integrated with these peoples. Throughout the ceremony, Otto chanted and performed sprinkling of incense of varying kinds, and we were each invited to place a handful in the fire ourselves once the altar was lit. We closed with a kneeling meditation where all were also invited to lift up names of loved ones and ancestors passed.
The two rituals today bridged concepts that are similar in many ways to spiritual disciplines use by many of our group members. The use of these rituals especially on this trip can create community and bridge spiritual traditions from both within and without. And that is one of the reasons that what we do at PSR is so important.