GRANDMOTHER SEA WITH EYEBROWS OF FOAM
MARTÍN PRECHTEL Ceremony 2000
SATURDAY MAY 6, 2000
The day started when I was up before the alarm could ring at 6:00. I showered and then decided to wear my white dress and braided my yesterday's clean hair into two braids. After my brief breakfast, so I could travel empty, I began checking once again the piles of 'stuff' I felt I needed for my day out. When Marilyn had not arrived at 7:30 as she promised, I simply continued to prepare myself emotionally and mentally for the day ahead. Soon she called from Manchester (for instructions – she had lost them in her car). Still I was able to go back into my preparation mode which consisted of talking to myself – reassuring myself that everything was going to be as it was supposed to be. Soon she did arrive and was properly impressed with my 'new' figure saying I looked 20 years younger. I felt completely rewarded for all the days of dieting.
the iris opens
Marilyn met Buddha who faked his normal shy self while she took the tour of the house. Though very kind and appreciative of everything, I could feel her mind was on all the things that needed doing for the workshop so we quickly left into the gray, overcast day.
At Elk, at the Community Center, we met Tracie and Bob who had driven up from LA. It was Tracie who had handled the financial end of the workshop. I gave her my check for $170.00. Marilyn's organizational skills have greatly increased – soon she had me making signs to be placed at the road. But I was glad she also found someone else to take them out to the road to tack them to the sign post so I wasn't made tired by walking out to the road.
People began arriving, unloading blankets and baskets, placing their bouquets of flowers across the stage. The circle of chairs began to establish 'camps' of the various persons. I found my place at the left upper edge of the horseshoe of chairs. People quietly walked around talking to strangers as we waited. I met a white-haired woman from Santa Cruz who was very sweet. While we were talking Tish walked in and I greeted her with all my thanksgiving for her having made the call to me on Monday which had alerted me to this workshop.
Suddenly, I looked around the room and felt uncomfortable with the place where I had chosen to sit. I picked up my bags, basket and branches to move to an empty chair at the bottom of the horseshoe in a second row behind others. Coming back with a cup of tea Tish laughed out loud as she saw I had moved to sit beside her! I did not know those were her things on the next chair.
All eyes in the room swung toward the door as Martín walked in. He was wearing a white felt coat with applications of red and white fire energy designs, jeans, desert boots and a felt hat that matched the coat – both of which he had made himself. He changed from his outdoor boots to huge black, felt boots, again sewn with swirling the same red and white designs. Greeting no one he grabbed up a shell out of his hand-woven pouch and began blowing through it. By sticking his hand into the vulva opening he was able to change the pitch. With his breath he formed rhythms. After circling the group five times but till carrying the shell in his hands clasped to his chest, he began his invocation prayer in eloquent Tzutujil as he stalked around the circle. To pull our minds into the prayer he translated it word for word teaching us the final invocation we were to use so many times in these two days:
"Long life, honey in the heart, no evil, wide roads white with the eyebrows of the Mother Ocean, yellow roads of the fat in the tail of the deer. Thirteen thank-yous"
Then Martín walked around the circle greeting and shaking hands with each person. Grasping my walking stick to steady myself against his power, I stood to greet me with a bow. To me he said, "Love your cane." Completing this ritual he began to walk around the circle as if speaking to this person and that person while explaining where he came from and what he wanted to help us do. Then he asked us to unpack our things which we had gathered from the long list of supplies given to us at the time we made our reservations. These he asked to be laid out on the square of yellow cloth. As he cruised the room he kept looking at each person's pile. His glances seemed brief and almost cursory, but as he paced and walked and talked, one soon learned that he was looking into the personality of each of us, memorizing who was who and who had what. Sometimes an interesting item would catch his attention and he would stop to pick it up, inspect it, ask about it. One lady had a gourd. He said, "In Guatemala they use these for answering machines. Yea," he said when we laughed at the remark. "You go to someone's house and no one is home. You pick up a gourd, talk into it, stuff leaves into it and when the people come home, they see the fresh leaves, unplug the gourd and listen to what you had to say." As he put the lady's gourd to his ear he told her jokingly (she was the youngest and prettiest girl in the group), "You have many messages in here. You better learn how to listen to them before the gourd pops!" Then he just laughed and laughed a wild, free laugh.
A long time was spent in his walking around looking and asking if anyone had any feathers from crows, hawks, owls or vultures. Not trusting our knowledge he glanced again and again at the piles of feathers looking for 'suspicious' feathers. Some had feathers with them they were not sure of the bird which had given them and he would check them by holding them up against the light. Some of the feathers had to go back into boxes and bags because he said the feathers were the dreamselves of the birds. They were the outer manifestation of the bird-being-bird. Therefore feathers carried the song – the shine of the bird. We should assemble those feathers of the bird that we wanted to dream us into a new part of our own being. Someone asked if there were 'bad' birds and he explained that no birds were 'bad' but the feathers certainly carried and called the energy of the species. He said none of us (meaning those who were not him) were equipped to handle the energy of hawk, or owl, that crows were mischievous and he did not want to deal with that energy and vulture feathers, no matter how clean always stunk.
Then he called for someone to bring him a bowl. Kay Like, from Point Arena, who had attended other workshops in Elk, brought out a clay bowl about 18 inches across she had made, which had come only yesterday out of the firing pit. It was a perfect bowl shape but the edges were irregular as if large pats of clay had been hastily applied. Martín took the bowl, thanked her, blessed it, complimented it for being such a beautiful thing which it was. He then he began to lecture on emptiness, all the time walking around the circle holding the bowl under his arm so each of us could look inside of it. He compared the emptiness of the bowl to the bones of a woman who is also created to hold and bear babies. Then placing the bowl on the floor in the center of the circle, he called for our bottles of spring water. He explained what he wanted done. Starting with two people in the circle who did not know each other he invited them to the center where, standing on each side of the bowl, we were to blow breath across the water and then pour it in so that their individual streams of water mixed. From both sides of the circle couples formed as they poured in their water. The last two persons were Tish and I. How we smiled when we realized the fate of the circle had closed in around us making us partners for the workshop. While Tish and I were pouring in our waters Martín dropped in rose petals singing and praying.
Afterwards, the other people then began to move their things across the circle to sit side by side with their new-found partners. Even though I had gone to some trouble to find the nicest, and best way to bring my things, I saw that many others had very interesting containers, long elegant feathers and arranged their implements with care. Martín explained how to dedicate a knife or any metal thing taken from the earth – biting the blade three times, giving the knife a name, and blowing one's breath on it. Then Martín invited each of us to come forward to bring one of our flowers for the bowl as he explained how our being there was joined into this one bowl. Then he explained what we would be doing after lunch. Before dismissing us he described how one makes a gift from their food.
Most of the people walked to the grocery store where, according to their orders taken earlier by Chris, Marilyn's son, people bought sandwiches. Accidentally only Tish and I had brought our own food. So we settled down on the floor, laying out our food on napkins on the floor. First we took little wads of our food outdoors and placed them under a tree. As the others brought their food back, the room began to fill up. It was too cold outside for most of the people to stay very long. Waiting for the hour to end people walked around getting acquainted. I introduced myself to Kay Like and she immediately complimented me on my outfit, my being. When I told her I was "haiku jane" in the local Independent Coastal Observer she was blown away. I complimented her on her clay work and we discussed clays and firing. She too, said she fired in her wood stove. This gave me courage to do mine.
After we had reassembled in our circle Martín, began to explain the Mayan cosmology and their explanation of birth and life. He talked about the relationship of child to mother and how the birth experience changes this. How the placenta which had covered the child is ripped open and the child emerges, and then, after traveling down the vaginal canal, it again has to break through another skin – the flesh of the mother – to come out into this world to be on his/ her own.
We were to use our cloth to symbolize this process. If we were 'real good' we would only use cloth which we had woven. Then we would understand how our ancestors were the warp of the cloth of our days as we wove the weaving – bringing the colors from the sky and rain to the cloth of days. We are the arrangers of patterns. Well, we think we are. Actually we do arrange the patterns with our living but we are following patterns so old that their beginnings stretch around the world like a ball of string.
Coming into the circles of chairs and 'stations' (many sat on the floor on pads or blankets) we stood together with our partners. One person laid on the floor while the other covered up the face and as much body as possible with the cloth. Standing quietly besides we watched over the birthing one. Martín lead them in a poetic affirmation and message to their mothers and fathers asking to come forth. After each phrase the covered up buried seed person repeated his words. When they had cried out with great force that they wished to have their husks removed, we watchers slowly pulled back the cloth starting at the top of the head.
Then with great force we snapped the cloth in the air, rolled it into an untidy ball, gave a hand to help the person on the floor to stand. Not letting go of their hand, we hugged and greeted them to our world as new creatures. Then we handed them their balled up husk to hold under their arm pit. Still holding on to each other the couples began to dance to Martín's loud chanting and drumming, and we danced and we danced until I was exhausted. It felt so good to lie on the floor, but having the cloth put over my face made me anxious. My breath was trapped under the cloth with me and I had to taste it and smell it and feel its moistness. As we began repeating our words to our mothers I became quite involved with seeing myself inside my mother and feeling my need to break out and away from her. It was not hard to put a lot emotion into one's cries for help to have the cloth removed. The chanting began again as the cloth slowly let the room back into one's consciousness. I was helped to stand and then we danced together. It bothered Tish and I to be bouncing and jiggling in such a close proximity so we accidentally let go. Martín corrected us quickly.
Then with the partners facing each other the one 'washed' the other, wiping away fears, memories, and the sweat which we had generated with the dancing. Starting at the crown (of being), then the eyes (for our seeing), ears (for the hearing), mouth (which gives words to heart), chins (to be held up in pride - or maybe not), shoulders where our ancestors sit, elbows, wrists, hips, knees, and feet were wiped by the partner's husk/cloth. The process was repeated for the other person. Then we formed a circle wiping down the person to our left who was simultaneously wiping the person in front of them. This conditioned us to receive while giving to someone else. Then turning, the process was repeated with the person to the right, who in this case was Kay Like.
Still standing inside the circle we were instructed to tear the cloth into two pieces. Martín said the ripping sound was one used for healing. One half of the cloth was draped over the shoulders while we tore the other half into four pieces. Some used their teeth, others used knives which the men all welded helping each woman to make the cuts who was not strong enough to rip the cloth.
These four strips were hung on a shoulder as the other half of the cloth was taken in hand. This section was torn into six strips. These were knotted together on one end. Then he explained how at home we should knot up the strips. On one strip there should be a knot for each time someone had transgressed against us or hurt us. On the next strip should be a knot for time we had hurt someone. The next strip got a knot for each person or event that was a blessing to us. The next strip was for instances in which we had been a blessing in someone else's life. On the fifth strip were knots for each possibility that we had in our lives. The sixth strip was left unknotted.
The air was soon full of cotton fibers so that many of us were sneezing. Somehow it seemed like the sneezes of the newborn getting used to breathing this new stuff – air.
Then we were instructed to put away the 'knot' strips. Taking up the four strips, one held the center of the strip of the cloth in the palm of the hand. Pouring in a dumpling sized pile of corn meal, adding a bead or two of jade or turquoise and our breath we then knotted the cloth. Repeating this three more times to complete the series.
Then we were to tear the ends of these strips into the tiniest possible ribbons. On these ends we tied the bird feathers. Again Martín went from person to person scrutinizing each pile of feathers. One lady who had a crow feather, asked why we couldn't use crow feathers and he said crows were the gossips of the bird world and our work was too serious to treat that lightly. An older woman to my left asked about her blue jay feathers and he identified them as scrub jay and said again these were from also from a bird that gossiped and blew itself up. He began to imitate a social climber saying, "well as Robert Redford said to me, and he knows all the secrets of so-and-so" mimicking with the perfect actions. He was so funny. She told him, rather primly that she admired gossiping (as a feminine trait it is esteemed among lesbians) so lights went on in our heads as she said this.
We were encouraged to attach not only feathers but also beads. I found I had brought some bells so I shared with Tish. While the group was so engaged Martín went around the circle offering to answer people's questions. When he stopped in the row in front of us, Tish and I started our questions with the same breath. We tried again and again to let the other speak but each time we spoke together. This delighted Martín and he asked if we were sisters. Finally I refused to speak, to let Tish with her shyness to ask him her question.
Martín had explained about the 13 energy points at the major joints: shoulders, elbows, wrists, hips, knees, ankles and in the center at the top of the collarbone. Tish does Jin Shin Jyutsu where they have 26 points. He pointed out that both system were the same only one counts both sides of each joint. He said that from the joints we send out our 'flowers' of energy and her system was a way of freeing up channels that did not 'flower' or flow. Which made perfect sense to him.
Then as he turned away from speaking to her, the lady on my left (with the scrub jay feathers) butted in by starting to ask about another of her feathers. Martín spoke quietly saying to her, "Just a moment, this lady has been waiting before you." As he said this, he pointed his finger to me and I instinctively reached out to grab it. I was shocked to find myself holding his hand!
He had talked about gift giving to the spirits. How poets, artists and healers 'take' from the universe to give to others. But if we do not make gifts to the spirits, who give us our abilities, they begin to 'eat' us – causing bad things to come into our lives. He had given various ideas for ways to make these gifts according to our work. He had cautioned us that we could not give to the spirits what they were giving us. My question was, "I feel the spirits are who or what give me my poems, so how can I use my abilities to give them anything since my poetry is my best gift?"
He asked if I did my poetry professionally (to see how I was using my gift). Then I told him of my book which Marilyn had given him last spring when I was in New Mexico and he remembered it. He told me I needed to make books (even little books) to give to the spirits. I could not use any poem I gave to others, saved or published or kept. It had to be poems just for the spirits and not shown to anyone else. I had always thought I 'paid the Universe back' for my abundance by giving and helping other people bring forth their books, but it seems that according to his system the spirits too need to receive. Our praise and gifts make the spirits fat and that makes them happy. They are always hungry and it is the kind of hunger that knows no rules or laws so they eat whatever they can find. If you are there taking gifts from the spirits you are right in their path and become their food. We make our houses square so the spirits can eat off the corners and leave us alone. But this only works for a little while. You have to keep giving to the spirits in new ways and with the food of new gifts. You gotta surprise them, delight them, honor them."
"You gotta give them their gifts outside," he said. "You don't want those hungry spirits wandering around in your house looking for food, looking at you. Besides they are happier outside. So you take their food and their gifts outside where it makes them happiest. Under a tree or somewhere where the earth is very special. You can know where the spirits are congregated by the changes in the earth's structure. If something catches your eye, really look! You are getting a message and if it is from the spirits you had better listen. Or not."
Later he had us gather up the thumb-thick willow branches. He showed us how to measure these from our sternum to our outstretched finger tips. The branches I had brought were all about 2 inches too short for me so Tish, who had brought two extra very long branches gave them to me so I could make four of her very sturdy straight poles. Eleanor Llewellen needed branches and all but one of mine was just the right long enough for her.
We were instructed that one end was to be sharpened and then Martín showed us how to cut a groove in top end where we tied on the bundles of cornmeal with the streamers hanging down. Along the shaft of our 'arrows' were to be carved designs. Each shape was to be a prayer and we were to save the chips in a pile. My little pen knife from my father was so small and inefficient. It did not even make adequate cuts in the soft bark of the willow branches. As I wondered aloud how I would ever carve the log, Tish quietly said, "It needs a chisel."
The list of the homework continued. At home, in the evening we were to carve a face on the 2 ½ inch diameter log. The face of our ancestors – all of the them. These were the people who had floated away "in the canoe of our tears with oars made of our songs". In addition, we were to 'find' the song of our ancestors which he often referred to a 'ditty'. These songs were the shapes of their souls that leaned on the soul of each of us – the now living. It is the weight of our ancestors that bend our shoulders. In order to stand tall we have to let that weight pull us upward and not downward. And to find our own personal song of this earth. Because their song and our song have the same parts. We the living just arrange them a little differently. But that is what we do. Because we have the life – right now, for a little bit – we have all this power. Spirits are always hungry and gifts as food is their power.
By now it was 6:30 and I was very hungry as where, I imagine, all the other persons. They had their belongings packed up in minutes were out of there out into the drizzling rain.
over the meadow sheep
an unpainted barn
Marilyn drove me back home. The whole way she was so upset with her son Chris. In his eagerness to work on his Ph.D. he wanted to talk to the people at Thanksgiving Coffee about commerce and business in Nicaragua (his place of interest) and had made an appointment for 10:00 the next morning with the owners. Marilyn felt that something 'bad' would happen to him if he walked out early on the ceremony. The whole way she ranted and raged at and about him. It was her same attitude when she projected when she was chasing after other men earlier in her life. I offered that she could stay at my house but she was totally focused on him and getting back to him was all she wanted to do. We stopped in Point Arena at the Shell station for gas and I paid to have her tank filled so she could drive Chris back to Santa Cruz herself.
She was so eager to get back, she just helped me unload my stuff and was gone. The quiet peace of the house was very welcomed and I felt the Universe was protecting me. Buddha was thrilled to have this wonderful strange smelling stuff in the house. He scratched on my ancestor log. I kept hoping he would make deep enough scratches which I could call faces. I really do not like to work with wood and the thought of carving through the thick bull pine bark seemed big and black and dangerous. What if the knife slipped, cut me badly and I had to call for help?
But first I had to eat. I had put the soup I had prepared the day before into a glass jar. Try as I did, I could not get the lid off. So I ate hot dogs which seemed just right. I wanted to listen to the radio but I knew that pabulum was wrong for me. so I put Martín's tape on grief and praise on along with his CD "Nectar" which I had on the deck. After eating I began carving my prayers on the branches. With the bigger sharper knives here at home the job was a breeze. I actually found myself enjoying it, making the patterns more and more intricate. Only because I had more to do did I stop.
I got a chisel and hammer from the garage. Sat on Marilyn's rug before the stove and started with the long thin nose (which soon got too fat, I thought). Then I put in the eyes which surprised me by being fairly even. Then the mouth. With the dark gray bark the white interior sap wood shined out in a way that was very pleasing to me. I had patience and awareness to sit digging out each tiny shape and side. Somehow I got the idea of adding hair, so I dug out my raffia and put several strands up over the top to hang down on two sides. With another piece I tied down the two sides by making a forehead piece. The big knot seemed to need something so I got a small crystal to tie up in the middle of the forehead. I wondered if I should put another face on the backside but wanted to quit to this to begin working on the book.
a new language
written in my oldest books
I got the idea of using one of my small, new triangle books and 'writing a book' in it to tie on my prayer sticks. Writing the little book took longer than I had planned, but I enjoyed it. Then I got out my knot of six strips. I decided to write on the cloth before tying up my transgressions and blessings. It was funny, I could easily remember the five or six transgressions and easily remembered the 7 - 8 blessings but I had the hardest time remembering who I had hurt until I thought of my kids and my divorce. I could actually see how harm and good had shorted the banners of my life. Only later did I find in my notes that as I prepared my prayer sticks I was supposed to be telling them the story of my life. What an opportunity I missed.
a woman dreams
a soft diamond song
SUNDAY, MAY 7th, 2000
I had set the alarm because I was afraid that I was so tired I would not wake up in time, but I was awake before the bells went off. I was stiff and sore but rested. I quickly ate my granola /yogurt breakfast and prepared my lunch of raw carrots and a peanut-butter sandwich.
I had put off finding my songs and the one from my ancestors so I sat myself down to that task. I wrote out a little song for myself. Thinking of my ancestors in Styre, Austria I began singing, my voice acting on its own – "A Bicycle Built for Two" which pleased me very much.
Then I got the idea of writing some haiku to tie on to my sticks. At first I thought I would use brown paper sacks but while getting one down I noticed the bright yellow of paper lying on top of a pile. My cloth had been the palest one there because I had used only unbleached muslin and the rest of the people had richly dyed yellow fabric. So I cut up the sunny paper into strips. I sat in my chair and began to write haiku. I thought of things and animals which had impressed me the day before.
needing a line
for the poem
a crow flies by
All of a sudden I felt the old 'thrill' I used to get from haiku. In short order I had written eight poems, folded them so no one could see them, punched holes in them and tied them on the sticks. Just then Marilyn arrived.
playing with the cat
the wise sparrow
just out of reach
This time when she came in Buddha meowed his greeting to her (something he rarely does). She said she needed some colored earth for contrast on her smooth wood so I got a small ball of the micacious clay for her. Soon I had my things loaded in the car – in the rain which I was sure would clear out by 11:00. I went through the house locking doors and left through the front door. As I walked by the camellia bush I picked its last, lovely red flower.
We had a good talk on the way. Marilyn told me of her experiences finding her song as a sound. I realized that my words had no sound, no melody and I wondered how I could fake it. As we got closer to Elk Marilyn began fussing about the workshop and was again lost to me. When we arrived at the community center no one else was there. She became furious with Tracie. I told her I felt Tracie would come and she would be there soon. She borrowed my chisel and began carving on her ancestor's face. I was so afraid her anger would cause the knife to slip. I felt like it was my job to concentrate on keeping it from slipping and stabbing into her skin. When another car pulled in, bringing Chris, Marilyn became so frantic to get into the building she asked Chris to pick the lock. He wisely and quietly looked at it and said it was not pickable. Just then Tracie arrived and the building was opened as baskets and bags began to appear out of cars. I put my things in "my place" – how good it felt to have it all decided for me! There was no task for me to do and I did not want to be talking to people so I got out my notebook and began to make notes of yesterday. I was sitting too close to the door and got cold so I moved to the back of the room next to a huge bucket of scotch broom which smelled very strong. I was warmer but the aroma really got to me. Suddenly I felt I just had to get out doors to breath some fresh air – rain-filled or not.
yet the world comes up
to my praise
As I opened the door, there was Tish coming in. I greeted her. Out of the corner of my eye I saw two more people approaching. Then I realized it was Martín and Hannah. I bowed and greeted them, holding wide the door. At the last second Hannah refused to go through the door I held open, but turned and entered the "barroom" door. I almost smiled as I admired her skill. It must be very hard to be the wife of a shaman who has so much admiration from everyone else.
Wearing a shirt with patterned with small red flowers he had made, Martin began by changing his boots and picking up his conch shell which was sitting by the bowl of flowered water. He began walking his circle blowing the horn and people quickly took their places. Running out of wind for the shell, (one felt Martín's energy level was much lower today, but so was everyone's), he put it down by the bowl. Then he began his prayer, kneeling to the floor as he finished. Then he went around the circle greeting and shaking hands with each of us. As he shook my hand he said, "Good Morning Boss." I was not sure what he meant, but it inflated my ego like a hog bladder.
He explained that in the church outdoors one kisses the earth at the end of a prayer but it was ridiculous here in a building. Then he began telling us funny stories of the coming of the Catholic church to his village and how the two religions influence each other he took something out of his bag and started walking around looking at the flowers. Finally he found the leaf he wanted. He showed us that he had a ball of resin nestled in a stem of three leaves. This he passed around asking us to sniff it (lightly) and add our breath to it. When it made the circle I saw he had an overturned saucer on the floor with a briquette burning on it behind the flower bowl. He explained that the incense now had the breath of our community on it and by being burned its fragrance and our beings would call in the spirits to attend also.
Then he told us to get our flowers. Half of them we were to use to begin tying on our prayer sticks and ancestors.
leaving the house
daffodils gather around
Suddenly I regretting bringing such small flowers. Everyone else had great huge flowers – lilies, iris, stock, foxgloves, roses – long stemmed beauties. But I was glad I had picked the camellia this morning because it was fresh and just perfect to tie at the throat of my ancestor. As he walked around watching us, Martín suggested we put our flowers on the sides of the faces like ears. Ears! I still had those unused ears of corn which I thought I could substitute for the corn meal we were told to bring. It was so easy to take a few strands of the raffia hair to tie them in place. Better than flowers I thought. While we worked he asked us to sing the ancestor song we had been given. The room took on a very special quality as each person bent their head over their sticks and log softly singing over and over these different melodies. He then asked us to stand in a circle holding our prayer sticks in one hand and ancestors in the other. Unwrapping his own feather wand (made of hawk, eagle and owl feathers on the top at the top with thirteen kinds of macaw and parrot feathers dangling from below) out of his red cloth he smudged each of us in the smoke.
"Now we are going to build our house." he told us gleefully and one could feel him getting happier. He asked who was the youngest man. It was Chris and now there was no way he could leave because he was designated as the 'door' of the house. Martín had sealed up his chance of leaving early. Who was the oldest woman? The woman with the blue jay feathers said she was 62. With a shock I realized I was 63. As I said I was 63 a collective ah went up from the circle. It was as if I had been the grand old dame all the time and now I was given my official position – the backside of the house. Then he found the youngest woman – a very pretty woman (the one who had refused to give me a ride to Point Arena the day before) who had the right side of the house and the oldest man (John Llewellen, the seaweed gathering man) who had the west side of the house. Then he simply picked two persons of the average-mean age: Meg, the Negro girl and a small mousy guy I never met who each were to make the roof and floor of the house.
We named ones were asked to bring our sticks to the center of the circle. As we came into the circle Martín inspected them. When he saw mine (Tish's great strong branches) he said, " Ah, they will make our house strong." We laid these sticks in a square tying them tightly at the corners with heavy cotton string.
in prior lives
willows were kids who loved
Martín taught us the house making song which we begin to sing as Chris placed his square of sticks upright to make the door, facing the sea. The sides moved in and the back fitted together. We began tying all these conjoining corners. The whole construction wobbled and had to be held up or it would have collapsed. Martín assured us this was just like a little baby – we had to support it and give it our love and skills. Then Martín laid a diagonal stick which he called the Milky Way across the top to act as a brace. He asked who of the group was grieving for a lost relative and this person was to tie down this stick. Then he laid another across it bracing it in the other direction calling it the stick of the winds and asked for another grieving person to tie it down. Then we lifted the frame and the guy who had made the floor slipped it underneath and everyone was tying somewhere strengthening any weak places. Then he called for the roof.
While we had been working we had not seen that he had given Meg four long poles to which she had tied her sticks. There she stood, this huge black girl holding these long flowered spears! It lasted only a second but was such a sight of the ages. She was so magnificent!
We all helped her tie on her corners with the high roof. Since our house could stand up by itself and we melted into the background. Now the others came forward to tie on their sticks as walls and ceiling. There were so many of us that the house was completely enclosed except for the door. With the feathered and beaded streamers and the flowers on the pattern carved sticks the little house became quiet impressive. You could feel the pride in our work grow as each thing was added.
With a dance and singing our knotted bundles were then tied on adding another dimension – our personal joys and sorrows were tied in by their streamers. Then we were asked to use the rest of our flowers to tuck into the house. All this time a woman with deer hooves as rattles softly kept the rhythm for us.
Then those of us who had started the house came back into the circle to lift the house 5 times into the air, singing our house-building song again. He now taught us five kinds of breath and the sound-word they make. With each lifting we made the appropriate sound so the house was filled with the breath of not only ourselves but the breaths of all the elements of life and living.
Then we were invited to bring our ancestor logs and place them around the house. Only later did I realize I had placed mine at the 'left heel' where I had been wounded the most. We were so excited and thrilled with seeing each other's carvings the people just walked around looking and exclaiming with excitement. As Martín walked by mine, he pointed to it, turned to me and said, "Is that yours? It looks just like you." Those big ears of corn must have looked like my braids. As I was walking around admiring the ancestors, I noticed one with the loveliest, tiny pink roses tied on it. As I commented on how special those roses were, Tish said they were hers which she (too!) had picked fresh this morning.
For lunch Tish and I decided to eat outdoors behind the community center on the gray weathered picnic tables even though the skies were heavy, low and dark with rain. The strong winds had already dried them from the last shower. One woman, the one who had rattled the deer hooves was sitting there all alone. At another table was a little closed clique whose backs warned us away. So Tish and I joined this quiet, very contained woman. While we were talking Meg joined the group. Near the end of the meal, I offered my can of nuts to everyone. Meg had a bag of potato chips she was eating. Finally I said to her, "I'll trade you some nuts for chips" and she began passing around her chips – which were yummy - honey and Dijon mustard. If Meg had not been over six feet tall, weighing about 200 pounds and a martial arts student I would have commanded more of those delicious chips from her!
While we were sitting there after we had finished eating, Tish asked me about the turquoise stone in my bracelet. So I told the whole story to the little group of how it came into my life and the story it brought me. They were all pulled together with their quietness and concentration. It was a beautiful moment we shared together in the story. With the mist gathering in the valleys between the green hills with cows walking on them, the many California poppies which were unexplainably open in spite of there being no sun and us full from our lunches – this was what Martin would call heaven.
In a side room Hannah had set up a table covered with books, tapes and CDs for sale. I was headed toward my purse to add myself to the long line waiting on Martín to sign their books. Before I got that far, Chris came by and I told him I was glad he had decided to stay for the whole morning. He laughed rather uncomfortably. I told him how worried his mother had been the whole way home. He said he was sorry to have worried her. I told him I had asked her how old Chris was and she had said, "26 years old." I asked her if that wasn't long enough for the umbilical cord to dry up and drop off? When I said this, Chris laughed and patted me on the back, giving me a hug and thanking me for saying that. He said what a great mom she was and I said it is also hard to stop being the mom even when kids get older.
By now the people were jazzed, eager for the next thing, the next doing. While we still milled around Martín instructed us it was time write a letter to our unidentified soul. The way we made contact with this unknown entity was to look into our partner's eyes, see their grief and then write a letter. Several people had left so there were those without partners so Tish and I split up taking on new partners.
a scribbled sky
in the wispy clouds
a clear blue mind
Mine was the nun-like lady with whom we had eaten lunch. We both wept as we looked at each other. She had so much sorrow and aloneness in her – the thing that scares me the most.
The letters were short as Martin pushed us to stop working on those and begin writing a letter to the grief and hardships of the Grandmother Ocean. Not just to say how lovely she was but by acknowledging her troubles. These notes we rolled up and tied to the house on the place where we each needed healing. The gate was the head, right and left tops were shoulders, elbows halfway down, hands on the floor. The roof was the back the right and left corners the hips, halfway down the knees and on the floor – the feet. One girl asked where the lungs were and Martín seemed taken aback. Do you have tuberculosis? he asked. She mentioned some other ailment. When I got up there, my chest pains made me tie my letter inside on the left side. As I stepped back she was waiting to put her letter there also so we shared smiles.
Then he had us to form two lines, facing our partners, so that we were looking across a channel containing the house. This we were to fill with our love by reciting the affirmations he gave us to repeat. He laughing said, "Look all the fat ones are one side and all the skinny ones are on the other." Then he asked which side wanted to go first. The other side (mostly fat ones) cried loudly they did. "So," he said, "this side will start." pointing to the skinny ones. He said when anyone wants an office or a job they should not be given it. It should go to those who are not asking. We recited our affirmations and by the time I could take my eyes away from Tish, I noticed most of the people had their hands clasped over their genitalia. At that second Martín commanded them to let their hands hang down at their sides. "No need to protect yourself. I am here." he said, "I will keep you safe with these feelings. No putting your hands in your own pockets, either." Then he just laughed and laughed like an over-sexed teenager. When the other side had done their affirmations our two lines were drawn into a circle.
There he taught us a new song. The people who made the beginning of the house went to their places and together we lifted the house five times. Those would were not next to the house had their hand on the shoulder of the person holding on to the house so there was this large spiral made of humans. We sang and stamped and danced clockwise and counter clockwise. The house got heavy. We all began to sweat, and get tired but still Martin sang and beat the drum and gave directions. We danced and danced until we felt we would drop and then we danced some more.
Finally he let us bow the house down five times and set it back in place with the door facing the sea. Then we gathered up our cornmeal and salt and gift beads, raincoats, hats or umbrellas for the city folk, extra coats because now it was raining seriously. The sun had left truly left us. I wondered if Martín felt he was less of a shaman because it was raining on his ceremony or if he saw the rain as blessing.
I had this box of cornmeal which I did not want to carry to the beach so I dumped my purse into my basket and filled the sack-like purse with corn meal. The rest of my things I stuck in my pockets. Then I found out we had to carry our ancestors. Mine was over-big, much bigger than the rest and a lot heavier. I tied my cornmeal sack to my stick, put my ancestor on my right arm.
We began our song for carrying the house. Being in 'my' position at the back of the house I had to lift 'my' end of it five times. It was now a holy object and had to revered with breath coming through song. Carefully we carried it through the room and out the double doors. We had to duck waddle on bent legs to be low enough to get the high corner roofs through the door. As soon as we got outdoors one of the men stepped forward and took my corner. Gratefully I stepped back and he apologized for taking over. I was simply grateful as my knees were shaking already.
a house of sound
warm and dry
in the rain
In front of the procession Martín walked blowing the conch shell, then came the house which looked glowing and bright with all the decorations and flowers in the outdoor light. The rest of us walked behind, each singing over and over the one phrase at different pitches. As soon as the house came out the doors the rain stopped. As we came out on the road two guys stopped traffic by waving their ancestor-sticks like beacon lights so we could cross together. The people sitting in their cars had their mouths as wide open as their eyes.
Now it was the men who were carrying the house so the rest of us could watch our feet on the muddy rutted trail to the beach It is a long walk down to the beach at Elk and by the time I reached the sand I was exhausted and my arm and shoulder were killing me. My ancestors were getting heavier and heavier and it was painful carrying them and their representation. It was even harder walking in the soft, gritty lava sand. Everyone was going slower and slower. Martín changed the pace so there were no stragglers and we all walked together in a group seeing mostly the backs of the legs of the person in front of us. There was no time or chance to stop and get a deep breath. Singing and walking in the soft sand, carrying the 2 pounds of cornmeal and the ancestor seemed the hardest work I had done in a long time.
the cold wind
now part of the day
at the beach
I am sure everyone was hoping Martín would pick a place soon to set down the house. No, he had to walk to the very end of the north end of the beach where a waterfall had carved out a cave. Finally the house was in place and we could stop and rest. I found a dry spot on a rock and leaned on it. I did not want to move – ever.
But Martín was calling for us to bring the cornmeal. Again we were to march up to the door of the house in pairs to pour the cornmeal on the pile together. Martín stood right by the mound watching that everything was done exactly right. When the last person had emptied the corn meal he knelt down, said his prayers in Mayan. Then he patted flat the cone of meal and using the side of his fists, made two 'footprints' with finger pokes as toes. In this he put his jade beads as we then did. I just had to sit down so I spread my meal sack on the wet sand and sank down. Tish was so kind, coming to check on me, asking if I was okay. I was just steaming hot. I took off my socks and dug my feet into the cold wet sand. I was still so hot I tied my braids on top of my head to get them off my neck.
of sea-claimed rock
exposed quartz vein
Two people used their meal to pour lines from the entrance of the house down to the surf. Then we lined up on both of these lines across from our partners and breathed and sang to our ancestors and then set them into the sand, facing the sea. Again Tish and I were at the end of the line. Only one other couple was between us and the sea. I knew the night tide would find my offering early.
By now others were shedding their coats. I saw some sitting right on the wet sand looking pale and drawn. Then we had to get up to offer our salt saying, "Grandmother Ocean, here is your daughter. Come to her. Grandmother Ocean here is your daughter. We each saved back a small ball of salt. This we took to the edge of the water, used our fists to make footprints in which we placed the salt.
Walking carefully behind the house we each said our farewell to it. Martín encouraged those who could to come back to see it as often as they liked. And to not be unhappy if deer came and ate the corn or it was carried out to sea. All that now happened to the house and the pathway of ancestors were part of the future. We had to let go of our grief, our happiness, our desires, our joy in our making, our pride in our accomplishment. It had been given to the Grandmother Ocean with eyebrows of foam.
As the group straggled back across the sand someone noticed a seal that was lying on the beach. It was barely breathing and near death. I had seen the seal when we arrived but could only walk by touching it with my eyes and feeling inadequate. Now I was walking with Marilyn and Martín and wondered how he would act. He instantly reached into his pocket, pulled out his pouch of beads, put one to his mouth. Then he blessed it with prayers as he knelt at the seal's head. He prayed rapidly pointing in the direction of the sea. As he rose someone walked up and said, "Oh, the poor thing, what is happening to it?" He answered, "It is dreaming its way home." In that second I felt the power of Martín and his life.
humming a song
We continued walking off the beach taking a short cut back to the road. We now had our backs to the sea when Martín, said forcefully, "There!" and then turned around. As we too looked back we saw a big wave had taken the seal into its arms floating it out to sea. I was impressed with Martín's deep knowing of what to do, doing it with his whole being and force without show, and being so in touch with the sea that he could command it to take the seal back home. That is what happened. This is what we believed.
The group got even more straggly as we climbed back up the hill, with some of us having to stop more than others. As soon as the last of us got to the top of the hill the rain really began to pour. We walked with our heads down as if we were being blessed but we got thoroughly soaked. Back inside we took off all the wet clothes we could. Tish and I were so hot we both took off our bras which were soaking wet from our sweat. We called ourselves "that baggy tit club" as we giggled and joined the group for a closing prayer. Martín went around the group shaking each person's hand in farewell, occasionally making a comment. To me he said, "Goodbye haiku boss." I was honored and deeply touched. One little fat lady he curtsied to and danced a few steps because she was such a good singer. Her eyes glowed as if she got too little praise in her life.
Then we gave gifts to our partners. Each of us had brought two gifts. The second one we were instructed to tuck our letter to our unknown self in to and give it to the very most unlikely person we would find on the street. I still have not found this person for me.
Tish and I just sat on the floor drinking water and eating nuts. We were both so tired we could not appreciate the gifts we had given each other. Only later, putting her lavender candles and candle with flowers in it on my altar could I be appreciative.
We drove home together in a driving rain.
the day curved
the rise and fall
of the tides
That evening, when I found the energy enough to begin putting my things away again, I noticed that my checkbook was not in the bottom of the basket where I had dumped it when taking out the bag to carry the cornmeal to the beach. I was concerned enough by its absence to search carefully through each possible place it could have been. I tried to think when I had last seen it. In Marilyn's rented car. When we bought gas in Point Arena on Saturday night I had taken the bills out of my checkbook where I often carry money. Maybe I left it in her car? I went through everything I had taken for the weekend and brought home.
I called Marilyn's voice mail hoping to reach her before she returned the rental car the next day. As I thought about the concept that my checkbook may not be in the car, hiding under the seat, I wondered who would have gone into the Elk Community Center while we were down on the beach and riffle through purses and bags. Well, it was a perfect opportunity as everyone had, in the excitement of the moment, simply left purses and bags lie while taking only the many things we needed for the beach ceremonies. We were so occupied with dancing the house out of the building who would have thought to lock it up?
The only thing I could think of to do was to stop payment on the checks. The cash was simply gone. But I was very concerned to not stop payment on the check with which I had paid to Martín for the workshop. But what were the numbers? The records were also in the checkbook. Then I remembered I had made out an order for some rubber stamps which I had forgotten to mail. Thank goodness.
Monday morning I tore open the order envelope, got the number of that check, added one and began the long process of getting customer service at the bank. Finally, I was connected to a kind woman who began helping me. So I had the number of the first check in the missing packet but with which number did that bunch end? The bank had recently changed from having 25 checks in a book to 40. I asked her to hold on while I looked in my desk drawer because I had a faint memory of recently putting a new pack of checks in there for bill paying. When I opened the drawer to find that pack of new checks, there was my checkbook! I never put it in this drawer. Why was it here? How? Or when could I have put it in here between Saturday afternoon and Sunday night? Why would I have done this? It was so out of my usual pattern. Anyhow, I was very glad to find it. The last small cloud on the workshop experience evaporated. I had been feeling very sad with the idea that someone had violated our belongings while we were off installing our shrine. And if my checkbook was missing, surely others would be missing money. Wow! how protected it felt that all this bad stuff had not happened.
Saturday May 13th, 2000
In the afternoon the clouds looked as if they might be parting for a while. Werner asked me if there was any place I wanted to go. Yes. Each of the days since he had returned from Germany I had wondered how our House of the World was fairing on the beach. He had been so busy I had not dared to suggest a trip up to see it but now he was asking! Within minutes we were putting together water, hats and wraps, paper and pencil for a beach trip. Werner was eager to take the new digital camera to take a picture of the house. I told him Martín had warned us against photographing it. Immediately Werner was on the defensive, loudly expounding on how when he needed photos for his 'art' he had the right to take whatever he wanted. I shook my head 'no' which only made him more insistent.
I did not want a fight with him at this moment, so I simply shrugged and said it was up to him. We finished getting ready without comment. On the way I suddenly got the idea I should take some cornmeal so I asked him to stop in Manchester. I quickly ran into the store, paid my $3.07, and was back in the car in the shortest possible time.
By the time we got to Elk the sun was shining between big fluffy clouds which is the most perfect kind of beach weather. On the way down to the beach, I began to pick flowers here and there. After a bit even Werner added some to the bouquet in my hand. He still was carrying the camera. I carried the water bottle and a bag of cornmeal.
Though the path was all downhill the road to the beach is rather long. I was eager to look down the beach to see if the house was still standing. Just as we started walking in the soft sand Werner said he really had to go to the bathroom – big-time and bad. I walked back with him to the outdoor facility by the picnic area. I sat on a bench and wrote a few haiku while he took care of business.
rocks in place
holding the image
I could tell by the way he was walking when he came back that he did not feel well. I suggested he sit by me and rest a bit before going on down the beach. It was hard for me to be patient. I was so eager to know if the house was still there.
Finally, he said he was able to go on and we started off across the soft sand. I looked down the wide beach and there was nothing. "Oh, no," I sighed, "it is gone already." Then I glanced farther back into the rocky cove and saw the golden yellow gleam of the house looking quite small below the huge rocks. I had been confused because on this day, one week later, was a low tide when last weekend the afternoon had been a rather high tide.
I was eager to get closer to see if my ancestor had swam out to sea or if the extra length I had buried it in the sand had kept it steadfast. Still I set my pace to Werner's as we ambled along. About 30 feet left of the house, I dropped my shawl and the water bottle, preparing myself to approach the house. I was surprised as Werner suddenly crumpled to the sand, mumbling, "I need to rest." I glanced at him wondering if he was 'okay' but somehow I knew I was being given a 'window of opportunity'. I stood by him looking at the house, taking in the changes it had gone through as I listened to his breathing. Within seconds he was asleep.
I walked over to the side of the house, laid my bouquet of flowers on the roof above the door and began to speak my prayers. With Werner soundly sleeping I had no shyness or embarrassment about speaking the words aloud. I poured my cornmeal on the still nearly perfect mound. One of the prayer sticks had toppled forward draping its streamers and feathers over the cornmeal in a protective sort of way. The salt air and moisture had crusted over the mound which had not been washed when the waves that tangled fresh sea weeds among the ancestors failed to reach it with enough force to diminish it.
As I walked around the house, which was only a little weak-kneed, I began to see where others had visited it. At the back, where my haiku had been tied to my prayer stick, someone had pulled the papers forward, and torn open the tied hole to read them. I couldn't help smiling. As I came around to the front again I saw where the ear of corn which had adorned one side of my ancestor had been found and someone had laid it respectfully against the mound of cornmeal. That had been my original plan but then I had used it as 'ears' for my ancestor as I was too shy to do what I felt I wanted to do – lay down a whole ear of corn instead of cornmeal which I had not ground. I felt so good to know that my intent was now fulfilled. I walked down the side of the path of ancestors. I was not looking for mine as I could see that about half of them had been knocked down and carried off by the tide. Still I looked at the changes, seeing how the sea weeds were swirled among the ancestors without knocking them down. The last one in the row had an especially stern look as if it alone had turned back the force of the sea. Someone had found a fat crab claw to drape over the 'arm' of an ancestor. This person had understood 'feeding' the ancestors and I felt good seeing it.
In the surf I could see a couple carved logs were rolling. I went down to see if any were mine. I did recognize Marilyn's log. The micacious clay was all washed off as well as her flowers but the faces were still spinning and smiling as the log 'played' in the surf. I found a bright orange and yellow stone by her ancestor when it stopped floating between waves. I saved the stone for Marilyn. And let her ancestor enjoy its swim.
As I continued to look for my ancestor, I found – suddenly! many pieces of colorful beach glass. Here was one, there was one, and another. I walked down the beach led by the spots of colored glass. When I came back the protruding rock cliff (without finding my ancestor) I found Werner was sitting up; probably wondering where I had gone. I went back and sat down next to him, asking if he felt better. Instead of answering me, he said he had changed his mind and would not photograph the house. I did not answer because I did not want to reveal my glee. Then he asked me if I wanted to photograph it and for one wild minute I really considered the option.
the woman ties shells
on her straw hat
As we sat there, side by side, staring at the sea a strange warm wind blew over us. Beaches are full of cold wet wind – not this soft warmth that felt like the breath of a large entity. "Isn't this some wind?" I asked. "It is never this warm on a beach!" I said.
to the full moon
an empty heart
Copyright © Jane Reichhold 2000.
To learn more about Martín Prechtel and his valuable work, check out his web site.
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Index of Journal Journeys