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Sleeping with the Jaguar

By Doris W. Davis

A VIEW FROM THE OUTSIDE IN

Like a river with three tributaries, this story has three beginnings. Clearly it began on January 12 this year when I read in TIO about the interfaith, interspiritual festival – Universal Multicultural Dialogo II – to be held in Guadalajara on May 6-8. But what captured me was the back-story, linking me to deeper layers of my psyche.

 Fire ceremonies were important along the Sacred March, including the welcome on May 5 in downtown Guadalajara. – Photo: Viveka Haven Davis

Fire ceremonies were important along the Sacred March, including the welcome on May 5 in downtown Guadalajara. – Photo: Viveka Haven Davis

For seven weeks prior to the Guadalajara Dialogo, religious leaders from indigenous traditions would make a Sacred March – a Caminata – for Peace and Unity. They would start in El Salvador, wending their way through Guatemala and southern Mexico, to arrive for a festival launch on May 3 in a ceremony on Scorpion Island in Lake Chapala. My heart beat a little faster. I imagined myself on that journey. After all, was I not a seasoned and bona fide Peace Walker? Had I not completed a cross-country American walkabout in 2011 with my daughter, Viveka? This adventure seemed to have my name written all over it. Respectfully, I applied to the organizers of the Caminata to be permitted to join them.

In a personal sense, though, this story began in the 1950s when, at about age 15, I had a vivid and memorable flying dream which carried me all the way down the coast of California through Mexico and Mezo America, to the tip of South America. The dream was so real, so specific, that I knew I must find a way to visit those lands.

I sought out a pen pal in Chile and corresponded with him for several years before taking a year off from my university studies in Berkeley a few years later, in 1958, to live and study for nine months in Santiago. At age 20, my command of Spanish much enhanced, I made my way back home to complete my B.A. degree. When a railroad strike made it impossible for me to travel, I hitchhiked through Peru and Bolivia. During that road trip I fell deeply in love with the terrain and the indigenous peoples of the Andean cordillera and the Bolivian altiplano, and especially the remnants of the Incan civilization around Cuzco and Macchu Picchu.

Imagine, if you will, this scene: A young, adventurous, guitar-toting folklorista is spending the night in a railroad car parked near the Macchu Picchu site. (The tourist hotel has not yet been built.) Suddenly a wizened old indigenous man appears out of nowhere. Seeing an opportunity, she manages to convince him to teach her a song in his native Quechua. He sings, and she finds the chords. He translates, and she writes down the words to a song, “Parras,” which begins …

Do you see that dark little cloud on the far horizon, Parras? 
That cloud holds the tears of my mother, (dark little cloud) Parras, 
Weeping for her absent son, so far away, lost. . .

Thus, in a larger sense, that song and that old descendant of the Inca link me to a much larger, much older story, one which began in the Spring of 1519, when Hernán Cortez arrived in Yucatan from Cuba with an armada of 11 ships and 508 men. But that incredibly complex story I shall leave to the native inhabitants of the land; and after them, the experts: the scholars and historians archeologists, churchmen, sociologists, psychologists, artists, and yes, even the politicians, soldiers, merchants, and the tillers of the land who have had to make their own meaning out of what ensued in the aftermath of that fateful day.

For my part, I will stick to my personal experience of a few days in early May, 2015 when I was privileged to observe, in a very intimate way, a remarkable spiritual occurrence: a demonstration for Peace and Unity of the Indigenous Peoples, “All living on the same Mother Earth – under the same sky.”

Request Denied

The logistics of planning such an undertaking were daunting. The organizers did not feel they could guarantee 100 percent safety and provision for the indigenous walkers, let alone for “outsiders,” especially for an old gringa. (I’m 77!) On the other hand, if I learned anything on my walk across America, it was that if a pilgrimage to a sacred destination is undertaken with prayer, faithfulness, and steadfast hope that its highest purpose will be fulfilled, the boon will be granted by the spirit partner (Deity).I decided to stay at home in Culver City, California, and do my walking every day with them; not literally, but virtually, in prayerful support and in solidarity with them and their purpose. May 9, marked the last, the 50th, day of that commitment.

 Doris (middle rear, with a white scarf) marching with the indigenous leaders arriving in Guadalajara on May 5. – Photo: TIO

Doris (middle rear, with a white scarf) marching with the indigenous leaders arriving in Guadalajara on May 5. – Photo: TIO

The organizers regretted that they could not accommodate me. But they did invite me, very cordially, to come to Guadalajara and to be part of an informal “reception committee,” consisting of other native peoples from Abya Yala when the Caminata arrived at Lake Chapala around May 1. Abya Yala in the Panamanian Kuna language means “land in its full maturity” or “land of vital blood.” It is the word preferred by the original inhabitants over “The Americas,” or “The New World.” At Lake Chapala, north of the city, a group of about 70 would ready themselves for the ceremony which would take place on Scorpion Island (Isla de los Alacranes) on May 3 at the full moon. At that ceremony, sacred rituals would be performed; a fire would be lit to be carried to Guadalajara.

Invited to Join the Ceremony

Viveka and I reached Lake Chapala on May 2. We felt like outsiders, not knowing if we would be permitted to travel to the island or not. My daughter was told that it was disrespectful totake photographs at will, which inhibited her creativity considerably. Had we come all this way to be shut out? We had to accept whatever was decided, of course. We were told that if we did not have badges we would not be allowed on the launches.

 Huichol working on a beaded jaguar head – Photo: Wikipedia, Mario Jareda Beivide

Huichol working on a beaded jaguar head – Photo: Wikipedia, Mario Jareda Beivide

We were with a small group of “non-indigenous” whose status was shaky. In our hearts we trusted that somehow we would get our credentials, and kept persevering. Ultimately, the decision was made to allow us access to the ceremony and to grant us the coveted badges, which by now had taken on the status of honorary “passports.” From that moment – an emotional moment – we felt the privilege of being on the inside. I credit our humble but undaunted perseverance and whatever purity of intention we had consecrated in our hearts.

I had made the mistake of believing that the ceremony on Scorpion Island would last a few hours and that we would return to the mainland to sleep in one of the Red Cross tents or get a hotel room. Instead, the ceremony lasted all night with rites and rituals, prayers, singing, chanting, and dancing. A white goat would be sacrificed during the ordeal. As night fell, we wondered how and where we would sleep, for we had not brought blankets or sleeping bags! We could only trust Spirit. It turned out that there was a little chapel, exquisitely painted and decorated, dedicated to The Virgin of Guadalupe, who had manifested her presence there in 1970.

This Mexican icon has powers and characteristics which, curiously, run parallel with the native earth Goddess Tonantzin. The candles burning at the altar warmed the little space. The tile floor was hard and cold, but it was shelter from the wind. I felt at home with her there and was grateful to know I could make it through the night.

In the Chapel with the Jaguar

 The chapel where Doris and Viveka spent the night. – Photo: Viveka Haven Davis

The chapel where Doris and Viveka spent the night. – Photo: Viveka Haven Davis

While Viveka went out to observe the ceremony, I created a small personal altar with candles and objects brought from home, including a beaded multi-colored jaguar head and hummingbird’s feathers. Both of these animals have ritualistic significance in these cultures, along with the snake, the condor, and the eagle. I stood in the chapel offering violet flame prayers for mercy and forgiveness worldwide for the next few hours until I fell asleep. Viveka returned to sleep for a while, and then a Bolivian Jesuit priest, also seeking a little warmth and the comfort of the Divine Mother, came to join us in the wee hours. He quickly fell into a deep sleep and snored profusely.

As dawn approached, Viveka rose again to be sure not to miss any of the culminating ceremonies. And that was when it happened: The priest’s snoring morphed into something else. Although neither exactly threatening nor sinister, it was suddenly not human. If you want to know what I heard, listen to these jaguar sounds on Soundboard

I got up in time to watch the sunrise with the group of about 60 souls assembled on the rock outcropping which forms the spine of the island. I lent my palo (sacred stick) to others for the lighting of the fires which were carried to Guadalajara city center for the inauguration of Universal Multicultural Dialogo II. The ceremony we participated in was designed to symbolize the fulfillment of prophecy – the uniting of the Eagle of North America and the Condor of South America with the Quetzal bird of Mezo America,associated with the Feathered Serpent, the God Quetzalcoatl.

The fires will be tended for the next year, and the sacred poles which made the journey from El Salvador to the state of Jalisco, Mexico, will be returned to their guardians. 

Doris’ daughter, Viveka Haven Davis, was a full participant with her mother (and brought her camera), so this story is really both of theirs.

While Viveka went out to observe the ceremony, I created a small personal altar with candles and objects brought from home, including a beaded multi-colored jaguar head and hummingbird’s feathers. Both of these animals have ritualistic significance in these cultures, along with the snake, the condor, and the eagle.